"Is it," said Barnacle, Junior, taking heed of his visitor's brown face, "Anything — about — tonnage — or that sort of thing?" (See page 55), — Book I, chap. 10, is the full title as given in the Chapman and Hall printing. Sixties' illustrator James Mahoney's seventh illustration for Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, Household Edition, 1873. Wood-engraving by the Dalziels, 11 cm high by 13.7 cm wide, p. 49, framed. Running head: "On the Iron Bridge." [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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.]

Passage Illustrated

With Barnacle junior, he signified his desire to confer; and found that young gentleman singeing the calves of his legs at the parental fire, and supporting his spine against the mantel-shelf. It was a comfortable room, handsomely furnished in the higher official manner; an presenting stately suggestions of the absent Barnacle, in the thick carpet, the leather-covered desk to sit at, the leather-covered desk to stand at, the formidable easy-chair and hearth-rug, the interposed screen, the torn-up papers, the dispatch-boxes with little labels sticking out of them, like medicine bottles or dead game, the pervading smell of leather and mahogany, and a general bamboozling air of How not to do it.

The present Barnacle, holding Mr. Clennam's card in his hand, had a youthful aspect, and the fluffiest little whisker, perhaps, that ever was seen. Such a downy tip was on his callow chin, that he seemed half fledged like a young bird; and a compassionate observer might have urged that, if he had not singed the calves of his legs, he would have died of cold. He had a superior eye-glass dangling round his neck, but unfortunately had such flat orbits to his eyes and such limp little eyelids that it wouldn't stick in when he put it up, but kept tumbling out against his waistcoat buttons with a click that discomposed him very much.

"Oh, I say. Look here! My father's not in the way, and won't be in the way to-day," said Barnacle Junior. "Is this anything that I can do?"

(Click! Eye-glass down. Barnacle Junior quite frightened and feeling all round himself, but not able to find it.)

"You are very good," said Arthur Clennam. "I wish however to see Mr. Barnacle."

"But I say. Look here! You haven't got any appointment, you know," said Barnacle Junior.

(By this time he had found the eye-glass, and put it up again.)

"No," said Arthur Clennam. "That is what I wish to have."

"But I say. Look here! Is this public business?" asked Barnacle junior.

(Click! Eye-glass down again. Barnacle Junior in that state of search after it that Mr. Clennam felt it useless to reply at present.)

"Is it," said Barnacle junior, taking heed of his visitor's brown face, "anything about — Tonnage — or that sort of thing?"

(Pausing for a reply, he opened his right eye with his hand, and stuck his glass in it, in that inflammatory manner that his eye began watering dreadfully.)

"No," said Arthur, "it is nothing about tonnage."

"Then look here. Is it private business?"

"I really am not sure. It relates to a Mr. Dorrit."

"Look here, I tell you what! You had better call at our house, if you are going that way. Twenty-four, Mews Street, Grosvenor Square. My father's got a slight touch of the gout, and is kept at home by it."

(The misguided young Barnacle evidently going blind on his eye-glass side, but ashamed to make any further alteration in his painful arrangements.)

"Thank you. I will call there now. Good morning." — Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter 10, "Containing the whole Science of Government," page 55.


The term tonnage, about which Barnacle, Junior, affects to know little, is a nautical term denoting the volume or capacity of a mercantile ship, and therefore represents a more accurate picture of a nation's merchant marine than the mere number of registered vessels. For example, in the year 1857 the number of vessels that the various ports of the Great Britain in aggregate had registered (whether sailing vessels or steamships) was 27,097, but the tonnage or total storage capacity of those vessels amounted to some 4,558,740 tons. For example, the magnificent iron steam sailing ship S. S. Great Eastern, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and at that point nearing completion on the Isle of Dogs, downriver from London, by far the largest vessel of her time, had a gross tonnage of 18,915. In contrast, the gross tonnage of the twenty-four vessels used to transport British troops in 1856 to the Crimea was 39,806. We may assume that the Circumlocution Office's oversight of British Trade meant that the term "tonnage" would have had considerably currency there, and that Barnacle, Junior, assumes that tanned, thirty-year-old Arthur Clennam is a businessman with interests in mercantile shipping. However, Clennam, in the midst of conducting an investigation of the case against William Dorrit, the Father of the Marshalsea. Clennam has been passed from official to another without finding a satisfactory answer. Here, moreover, Clennam meets another petitioner, the industrial inventor Daniel Doyce, who has been frustrated by the lack of cooperation of How-Not-To-Do-It Office. Arthur Clennam befriends Doyce, and subsequently goes into business with him.

In order to discover the nature of William Dorrit's debts and make arrangements to discharge them and effect the release of Amy's father, Clennam has to find out on which contract Dorrit defaulted. Barnacle, Junior, the functionary whom Clennam here consults in the Circumlocution Office, despite his inclination, at least reveals (on Clennam's second visit) which functionary and department he should consult in order to ascertain "the precise nature of the claim of the Crown against . . . William Dorrit" (122):

"Well, I tell you what. Look here. You had better try the Secretarial Department," he said at last, sidling to the bell and ringing it. "Jenkinson," to the mashed potatoes messenger, "Mr. Wobbler!" (xxx)

Another Kafkaesque runaround ensues, but eventually another young Barnacle elucidates Mr. Dorrit's case for Clennam, whose persistence will eventually result in William Dorrit's release:

"I suppose there was a failure in the performance of a contract, or something of that kind, was there?"

"I really don't know."

"Well! That you can find out. Then you'll find out what Department the contract was in, and then you'll find out all about it there."

"I beg your pardon. How shall I find out?"

"Why, you'll — you'll ask till they tell you. Then you'll memorialise that Department (according to regular forms which you'll find out) for leave to memorialise this Department. If you get it (which you may after a time), that memorial must be entered in that Department, sent to be registered in this Department, sent back to be signed by that Department, sent back to be countersigned by this Department, and then it will begin to be regularly before that Department. You'll find out when the business passes through each of these stages by asking at both Departments till they tell you."

"But surely this is not the way to do the business," Arthur Clennam could not help saying. [55]

The large, overstuffed chair which occupies the centre of the composition implies the owner of the comfortable, well-appointed office, Barnacle, Senior. The informing consciousness of the scene, Arthur Clennam, stands to the right, his face towards the bureaucrat rather than to the reader in this visual translation of the limited omniscient, and the whole focus of the scene is the elegantly attired, complacent, casually posed young aristocrat with the monocle. Only the large volumes on the mantelpiece, a large clock (only partially visible, upper left) and the overflowing wastebasket (right) suggest that this is an office as a roaring fire in the grate (to which the young Mr. Barnacle is standing rather close), thick, patterned carpets, and wallpaper with elaborately swirling designs proclaim comfort and affluence. Clennam's gesture with his hat implies that he is a petitioner, his topcoat and cane indicating that he has just come from outside.

Pictures of the Barnacles from other 19th c. editions

Left: Sol Eytinge, Junior's study of the ​Barnacles and their hoste, the financier Mr. Merdle, The Merdle Party (1867). Right: Mahoney's later illustration of Clennam's being visited in the Marshalsea by the younger Barnacle, It was the sprightly young Barnacle, Ferdinand — 1873 composite woodblock engraving. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: Phiz's study in the original serial of the ​Mr. Merdle's entertaining the Barnacles and other pillars of the establishment, Patriotic Conference (Part 14: January, 1857). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). The Authentic Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1901 [rpt. of the 1868 volume, based on the 30 May 1857 volume].

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"Little Dorrit — Fifty-eight Illustrations by James Mahoney." Scenes and Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens, Being Eight Hundred and Sixty-six Drawings by Fred Barnard, Gordon Thomson, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz), J. McL. Ralston, J. Mahoney, H. French, Charles Green, E. G. Dalziel, A. B. Frost, F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes. London: Chapman and Hall, 1907.

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Last modified 30 May 2016