Master Humphrey's Chamber by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 x 4 1/2 inches (8.2 x 11.4 cm). — "Master Humphrey, from his Clock-side in the Chimney Corner," Part One of Master Humphrey's Clock: (4 April 1840), Vol. I, 1. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Passage Illustrated: Introducing Master Humphrey, Story-Teller and Author

Those who like to read of brilliant rooms and gorgeous furniture would derive but little pleasure from a minute description of my simple dwelling. It is dear to me for the same reason that they would hold it in slight regard. Its worm-eaten doors, and low ceilings crossed by clumsy beams; its walls of wainscot, dark stairs, and gaping closets; its small chambers, communicating with each other by winding passages or narrow steps; its many nooks, scarce larger than its corner-cupboards; its very dust and dulness, are all dear to me. The moth and spider are my constant tenants; for in my house the one basks in his long sleep, and the other plies his busy loom secure and undisturbed. I have a pleasure in thinking on a summer’s day how many butterflies have sprung for the first time into light and sunshine from some dark corner of these old walls. [Master Humphrey, from his Clock-side in the Chimney Corner," 2]

Pictures of the Chamber Bracket the Three-Volume Miscellany

Left: Harry Furniss's study of Dickens’s persona throughout Master Humphrey's Clock: Master Humphrey from His Clock-side in the Chimney-Corner (1910). Right: Phiz's final illustration for Master Humphrey's Clock, in The Deserted Chamber (4 December 1841).

Dickens was only twenty-eight, but had already experienced immense success with three runaway best-sellers: The Pickwick Papers (1836-37), Oliver Twist (1837-39), and Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39). With these projects overlapping, the young author was looking for some respite, and thought he had found the appropriate publication vehicle in a weekly miscellany to which other writers would contribute. But weal sales of the first three numbers convinced him that only a serialised novel from his own hand would save the magazine from oblivion. The competing images of Master Humphrey's chamber in the opening and closing numbers of Master Humphrey's Clock represent the author's changing conception of the weekly, from a leisurely pace of composition which would allow him adequate time for other projects, to a frantic pace of composition that led to a complete year's break in the production of serial fiction. After the last instalment of the miscellany (4 December 1841) Dickens had no major publication until the opening number of Martin Chuzzlewit (January 1843).

Whereas the same comfortable room with its seventeenth-century furnishings and clock-case appeared to be in complete order in the headpiece for the opening number of Master Humphrey's Clock, here the editor has left manuscripts scattered about the foot of the clock, and has failed to close the clock-case, as if he were suddenly called away in the midst of considering material for the next issue. The uncollected material from across the eighty-six weekly numbers of the miscellany finally appeared in volume form for the first time in the Charles Dickens Edition (Chapman and Hall, 1867).

Related Resources

Scanned images and texts 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. Barnaby Rudge in Master Humphrey's Clock. Illustrated by Phiz and George Cattermole. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1841; rpt., Bradbury and Evans, 1849.

_______. 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.

_______. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book, 1910. V.

Hammerton, J. A. "XIII. The Old Curiosity Shop." The Dickens Picture-Book. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910. 170-211.

Created 5 July 2002

Last modified 15 November 2020