Introduction: Arthur Burdett Frost (1851-1928)

According to Frederic G. Kitton in Dickens and His Illustrators (1899), Arthur Burdett Frost (1851-1928) was a member of the group of nine (generally British) illustrators commissioned by the London publishers Chapman and Hall to provide "entirely fresh" (p. 221) plates for the a completely new, uniform series of volumes of the work of Charles Dickens to be known as the Household Edition, issued between 1871 and 1879. Frost, however, was an American painter of portraits and landscapes; to him fell the Harper & Bros. commission for all illustrations for Sketches by Boz in their version of the Household Edition volume, in which New York political cartoonist Thomas Nast provided the wood-engravings dropped into the letterpress of American Notes for General Circulation and Pictures from Italy. Moreover, Frost supplied twelve illustrations for the Ward, Lock, & Co. Pickwick Papers issued simultaneously (perhaps for the sake of copyright) in London and New York. In the December 1897 issue, Scribner's Magazine reproduced one of the best in that series, The Slide, illustrating the scene of Pickwick on ice in Chapter 13 of that still vastly popular novel.

Arthur Burdett Frost (17 January 1851 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; — 22 June 1928), although often regarded as a leading lithographer and graphic artist in the late-nineteenth century "Golden Age of American Illustration," was both humourist and a prolific painter. As in his full-page illustration for Dickens's "The Tuggses at Ramsgate" of Cymon Tuggs on a runaway donkey, his works often incorporate dynamic motion and sequence. Despite being colour-blind, Frost illustrated over ninety books and produced hundreds of paintings; his forté in illustration was realistic hunting and shooting prints.

In 1876, the New York publishing house of Harper and Brothers, who had just signed an agreement with London's Chapman and Hall to produced a uniform illustrated edition of the complete works of the recently-deceased Dickens, hired Frost as part of the design team. At Harper's, he worked alongside such eminent illustrators as Thomas Nast, Howard Pyle, E. W. Kemble, Frederic Remington, and Charles Stanley Reinhart, putting his cartooning skills to good use and developing the "photorealistic" style of painting. The following year, he travelled to London to study the cartooning techniques of British graphic artists. In 1878, he returned to his native Philadelphia to study the painting techniques of Thomas Eakins and William Merritt Chase at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Clearly the publishers on either side of the Atlantic could not agree on the publication format for Dickens's largely non-fiction, journalistic pieces, and therefore made different publication decisions. Chapman and Hall, aware of the iconic status of Dickens's London sketches, issued these in a separate volume and elected to have this selection of fiction and non-fiction articles illustrated with thirty-four wood-engravings by their lead artist in the Household Edition project, Fred Barnard. Harper and Brothers of New York took a very different approach, amalgamating the three early works, and commissioning two very different illustrators. The well-known American cartoonist and political satirist Thomas Nast, who had already illustrated the American Pickwick used his hyperbolic style, so well suited to pillorying Tammany Hall politics in New York, for American Notes and Pictures from Italy. Since so much of the record of the 1842 travelogue is social and political commentary, Nast's approach works surprisingly well as he foils the traditional society exemplified by the British Lion versus the radical experiment of American democracy, as symbolised by an eagle dressed as if he were Uncle Sam, in short jacket and striped trousers. On the other hand, his somewhat fanciful and cartoonish approach to Pictures from Italy, which is less successful than the realistic portraiture of Marcus Stone, for example.

Although "Scenes" contains twenty-five sketches and "Our Parish" seven, neither Frost nor Barnard in the Household Editions appears to have been much interested in these essentially non-fiction articles. In Frost's 28 illustrations, he devotes only three to "Our Parish," but fully twelve to "Tales," which contains twelve short stories. Similarly, of Barnard's thirty-four illustrations, only eleven concern the twenty-five sketches in "Scenes," but Barnard places an emphasis on illustrating Dickens's short fiction: he devotes sixteen illustrations to the twelve selections in "Tales." Sadly, Frost's work on Sketches by Boz is far inferior to most of Barnard's much more ample illustrations for the same work. However, the American in London, working on American Notes for General Circulation produced some inspired, highly realistic realisations of Dickens's descriptions of Yankee culture and mores.

Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People

"Our Parish"




American Notes for General Circulation

Related material, including front matter and sketches, by other illustrators

Commissioned by Dickens's chief publishers, Chapman and Hall, to illustrate a wholly new, uniform edition of his works, from 1871 through 1879, were the following "Illustrators of the Sixties":


Dickens, Charles. American Notes. Works, New York: Peter Fenelon Collier & Son, 1890.

Dickens, Charles. Pictures from Italy, Sketches by Boz and American Notes. Illustrated by Thomas Nast and Arthur B. Frost. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877 (copyrighted in 1876).

Dickens, Charles. American Notes for General Circulation and Pictures from Italy. Illustrated by J. Gordon Thomson and A. B. Frost. London: Chapman and Hall, 1880.

Kitton, Frederic G. Dickens and His Illustrators. (1899). Rpt. Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 2004.

Last modified 18 June 2019