The Secret Society of the 'Prentice Knights — seventh regular plate by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). 13 March 1841 (Part 5). 3 ½ x 4 ½ inches (9.4 cm high by 11.3 cm wide), Chapter VIII, vignetted, from instalment 48 in Master Humphrey's Clock, and published in Dickens's Barnaby Rudge in the 1849 Bradbury and Evans two-volume edition: foot of 280. Running Head: "Master Humphrey's Clock" (280). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Passage Illustrated: A Silly Secret Society

With these words, he folded his arms again; and frowning with a sullen majesty, passed with his companion through a little door at the upper end of the cellar, and disappeared; leaving Stagg to his private meditations.

The vault they entered, strewn with sawdust and dimly lighted, was between the outer one from which they had just come, and that in which the skittle-players were diverting themselves; as was manifested by the increased noise and clamour of tongues, which was suddenly stopped, however, and replaced by a dead silence, at a signal from the long comrade. Then, this young gentleman, going to a little cupboard, returned with a thigh-bone, which in former times must have been part and parcel of some individual at least as long as himself, and placed the same in the hands of Mr. Tappertit; who, receiving it as a sceptre and staff of authority, cocked his three-cornered hat fiercely on the top of his head, and mounted a large table, whereon a chair of state, cheerfully ornamented with a couple of skulls, was placed ready for his reception.

He had no sooner assumed this position, than another young gentleman appeared, bearing in his arms a huge clasped book, who made him a profound obeisance, and delivering it to the long comrade, advanced to the table, and turning his back upon it, stood there Atlas-wise. Then, the long comrade got upon the table too; and seating himself in a lower chair than Mr Tappertit’s, with much state and ceremony, placed the large book on the shoulders of their mute companion as deliberately as if he had been a wooden desk, and prepared to make entries therein with a pen of corresponding size.

When the long comrade had made these preparations, he looked towards Mr. Tappertit; and Mr. Tappertit, flourishing the bone, knocked nine times therewith upon one of the skulls. At the ninth stroke, a third young gentleman emerged from the door leading to the skittle ground, and bowing low, awaited his commands.

"'Prentice!" said the mighty captain, "who waits without?" [Chapter the Eighth, 279-80]


The artist distinguishes Sim, the Leader, from his adherents chiefly by his elevated throne. Perhaps in parody of such secret societies as the Masons Phiz has embellished Sim's elevated armchair with a pair of skulls (or facsimiles). Dressed in the height of eighteenth-century fashion rather than as a mere apprentice like his followers, Sim wields a leg-bone as commander's baton: "Then, this young gentleman . . . returned with a thigh-bone, which in former times must have been part and parcel of some individual at least as long as himself, and placed the same in the hands of Mr. Tappertit; who, receiving it as a sceptre and staff of authority." Sim has left Stagg, the blind porter of the apprentices' cellar in the Barbican, behind in the antechamber, but (with the exception of the apprentices' battle-standard, centre) all the major details in the illustration, including the 'prentices' enormous registry, Phiz has drawn from the text, including the elaborately attired apprentice (far left, his head in a bag) about to be inducted into the society's mysteries. Thus, the main elements of the crowded illustration set in the Hall of the 'Prentice Knights come directly from the text, including the huge clasped book, the throne of the Captain with its candle-holding skulls, the blunderbuss and sabre:

To this the novice made rejoinder, that he would take the vow, though it should choke him; and it was accordingly administered with many impressive circumstances, among which the lighting up of the two skulls with a candle-end inside of each, and a great many flourishes with the bone, were chiefly conspicuous; not to mention a variety of grave exercises with the blunderbuss and sabre, and some dismal groaning by unseen ‘prentices without. All these dark and direful ceremonies being at length completed, the table was put aside, the chair of state removed, the sceptre locked up in its usual cupboard, the doors of communication between the three cellars thrown freely open, and the ‘Prentice Knights resigned themselves to merriment. [282]

In his revision of the scene seventy years later, Harry Furniss subordinated everything to the three central characters: the recorder, the long fellow whose back serves as a writing desk, and the Glory of the 'Prentice Knights, waving his thigh-bone sceptre. The blind-folded acolyte enters from the side, but does not distract the viewer from the central figures and their gigantic beer-mugs. Furniss's distinctive detailism here involves accentuating the skulls, which seem artificial in their size when one compares them to Sim's much smaller cranium.

The Secret Society in the 1867 and 1910 Editions

Left: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s dual portrait of the diminutive "Captain" and the blind porter: Sim Tappertit and Stagg (1867). Right: Harry Furniss's revision of the same scene enlarges the figure of Sim Tappetit to look considerable, as if to show how he regards himself rather than what he really is: Tappertit presiding over the 'prentice Knights (1910).

Related Material including Other Illustrated Editions of Barnaby Rudge

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. 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.

________. Barnaby Rudge and Hard Times. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 16 vols. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867. IX.

_____. Barnaby Rudge<. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910. Volume VI.

Hammerton, J. A. "Ch. XIV. Barnaby Rudge." The Dickens Picture-Book. The Charles Dickens Library Edition, illustrated by Harry Furniss. London: Educational Book Co., 1910. 213-55.

Vann, J. Don. "Charles Dickens. Barnaby Rudge in Master Humphrey's Clock, 13 February-27 November 1841." New York: MLA, 1985. 65-66.

Created 5 July 2002

Last modified 15 December 2020