The Duel by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), sixteenth serial illustration and fifth dark plate for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, Part 8 (February 1858), Chapter 30, "The Opera," facing page 255.

Bibliographical Note

This appeared as the sixteenth serial illustration for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, steel-plate etching; 3 ⅝ by 6 ⅝ inches (9.3 cm high by 16.8 cm wide), framed. The story was serialised by Chapman and Hall in monthly parts, from July 1857 through April 1859. The seventeenth and eighteenth illustrations in the volume initially appeared in reverse order at the very beginning of the eighth monthly instalment, which went on sale on 1 February 1858. This number included Chapters XXVII through XXX, and ran from page 225 through 256.

The Context of the Illustration: Grog Davis's upholding his honour

“What has happened, Rivers?” cried he, in intense anxiety. “Tell me at once.”

“Sir, it don't take long to tell. It did n't take very long to do. It was three, or maybe half-past, this morning, the Captain comes to my room, and says, 'Rivers, get up; be lively,' says he, 'dress yourself, and go over to Jonesse, that fellow as has the shooting-gallery, give him this note; he 'll just read it, and answer it at once; then run over to Burton's and order a coupé, with two smart horses, to be here at five; after that come back quickly, for I want a few things packed up.' He made a sign to me that all was to be 'dark,' and so away I went, and before three quarters of an hour was back here again. At five to the minute the carriage came to the corner of the park, and we stepped out quietly; and when we reached it, there was Jonesse inside, with a tidy little box on his knee. 'Oh, is that it?' said I, for I knowed what that box meant,—'is that it?'

“'Yes,' says the Captain, 'that's it; get up and make him drive briskly to Boitsfort.' We were a bit late, I think, for the others was there when we got up, and I heard them grumbling something about being behind time. 'Egad,' says the Captain, 'you'll find we've come early enough before we've done with you.' They were cruel words, sir, now that I think how he tumbled him over stone dead in a moment.”

“Who dead?”

“That fine, handsome young man, with the light-brown beard, — Hamilton, they said his name was, — and a nicer fellow you couldn't wish to see. I'll never forget him as he lay there stretched on the grass, and the small blue hole in his forehead, — you 'd not believe it was ever half the size of a bullet, — and his glove in his left hand, all so natural as if he was alive." pp. 254-55]

Commentary: Sad End to an Affair of Honour

The two illustrations for February 1858 occur within mere pages of one another, since the pair visually narrate the cause of Grog Davis's shooing Captain Hamilton dead in a duel in Chapter 30. Grog Davis's spurning the young officer's interest in his daughter at the Opera the night before leads almost immediately to the settlement of the quarrel on the field of honour, outside Brussels. Although Lizzy is unaware of what is transpiring outside the box at the Opera, Beecher clearly overhears the altercation in the lobby:

Before he could finish, the curtain at the back of the box was rudely drawn aside, and a tall, handsome man, with a certain swaggering ease of manner that seemed to assert his right to be there if he pleased, came forward, saying, —

“How goes it, Davis? I just caught a glimpse of that charming —”

“A word with you, Captain Hamilton,” said Davis, between his teeth, as he pushed the other towards the door.

“As many as you like, old fellow, by and by. For the present, I mean to establish myself here.”

“That you sha'n't, by Heaven!” cried Davis, as he placed himself in front of him. “Leave this, sir, at once.”

“Why, the fellow is deranged,” said Hamilton, laughing; “or is it jealousy, old boy?”

With a violent push Davis drove him backwards, and ere he could recover, following up the impulse, he thrust him outside the box, hurriedly passing outside, and shutting the door after him. [Chapter XXX, "The Opera," page 251]

Already as Beecher reads Grog Davis's note, the early morning duel has taken place at the park near Boitsfort, outside Brussels, and Davis has shot the young British army officer through the head. Although Davis calls for a carriage, the suburb of Boitsfort was linked to Brussels by railway in 1854, but a vehicle would be more useful to keep the journey secret, and perhaps to transport a body, should Davis lose the duel. As he sits on his horse in the background, Davis casually lights a cigar as Colonel Humphrey in the foreground bends over his friend's corpse. Since duelling by the mid-Victorian period was generally illegal throughout Europe, Davis realizes that he and his daughter must depart from Brussels as quickly as possible, before the local police become aware of Hamilton's murder (at least, that is how the legal authorities will regard his death). Although the dueling culture survived in France, Italy, and Latin America well into the twentieth century, the practice had come to an end in Great Britain in 1852, when the last recorded duel was fought there. Moreover, in nineteenth-century France even participating in a duel could be a capital offense. No wonder, then, that Grog Davis decides to decamp as soon as possible.

Here, Phiz exploits his novel engraving technique in this engraving to embue the aftermath of the duel with melancholy since its grounds were ill-founded and its consequences tragic. According to Beecher, Davis has acted unfairly towards the young officer because the girl's overprotective father is not an aristocrat, and therefore has an imperfect understanding as to when a gentleman should take an affront so egregiously that he is prepared to risk his own life in support of a personal dispute.

Duelling and Scenes of Violent Death

In the background, young Hamilton has entered the box and Davis is attempting to remonstrate with him. Shortly, Davis will push the young man (who is presumably interested in meeting Lizzy) out of the box and into the corridor, where a sharp quarrel will ensue between the two. Duelling seems to have been a popular topic for historical novelists such as William Harrison Ainsworth, probably because such scenes of physical violence engendered reader engagement and were ideal for illustration. Whereas duels in previous centuries had been fought with rapiers, as in George Cruikshank's The Duel in Tothill Fields in Ainsworth's The Miser's Daughter: A Tale, Book Two, Chapter 11 (second plate for the seventh instalment, July 1842, in Ainsworth's Magazine). By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, in illustrations, at least, pistols have replaced blades, as in Fred Walker's Last Moments of the Count of Saverne in The Cornhill Magazine, No. 9, April 1864. Roughly contemporary with Phiz's dark plate etching of the death of young Hamilton in Davenport Dunn (February 1858) is a similarly atmospheric illustration for Ainsworth's Mervyn Clitheroe, The Duel on Crabtree Green (Part 5, December 1857), but there Phiz focuses upon the dramatic moment at which the combatants discharge their weapons, maintaining rather than undercutting the suspense.

Working methods

Scanned image by Simon Cooke; 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.] Click on the image to enlarge it.


Harvey, John R. "Conditions of Illustration in Serial Fiction." Victorian Novelists and Their Illustrators. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1970. Pp. 182-198.

Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1859.

Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: The Man of The Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, February 1858 (Part VIII).

Last modified 8 August 2019