The Wager (facing p. 252) — Phiz's seventeenth serial engraving for Charles Lever's The O'Donoghue; A Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago for Chapter XXXI, "Some hints about Harry Talbot" (August, 1845). 10 cm high by 18 cm wide (3 ¾ by 7 inches), vignetted. Instalment No. 8 in monthly serialisation by William Curry, Jun. and Company, Dublin. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: Harry Talbot's "irresistible impulse to play the fool"

“It was just this: — Mister Henry there had a wager with Captain Steevens of the staff, that he'd reach the course before him, each starting at the same moment from Quin's door at Bray. Well, what does he do, but bribes one of the boys to let him ride postillion to Steevens' chaise, because that way he was sure to win his wager. All went right. The bluejacket and boots fitted him neatly — they were both new — got on purpose for the day; and Mr. Talbot lay snug in the stable, waiting for the chaise to be ordered round, when down comes the word, 'Number four, two bays, you're wanted;' and up he jumps into the saddle, and trots round to the door, afraid of his life to look round, and keeping his chin sunk down in his cravat to hide his face. He never once looked back, but let the boys harness the cattle without saying a word.

“'My lord says you're to drive slow,' said one of the boys.

“He looked round, and what did he see, but an old man in the chaise with a horse-shoe wig, and in the full dress of a bishop.

“'Who is he at all?' said Talbot.

“'The Bishop of Cloyne,' whispered the boy; 'he's going up to the Levee.'

“By my conscience, he is not,” said Talbot, for at that moment he spied Steevens starting from the door at a round trot, and with that he turned the bishop's horses sharp round, laid the whip heavily over them, and took the lead towards Wicklow.

“Never such cries were heard as the bishop's. Some say that he swore hard; but it isn't true — he prayed, and begged, and shouted — but no use. Talbot gave them the steel at every stride; and after a long slapping gallop, he drew up at the stand-house, with a cheer that shook the course; and a fine sight it was, to gee the little man in the lawn sleeves stepping out, his face red with shame and passion.

“'Twelve miles in forty-two minutes, my lord,' said Talbot, showing his watch; 'hope your lordship won't forget the boy.'” [Chapter XXXI, "Some hints about Harry Talbot," pp. 251-252]

Commentary: Talbot and Mark visit "The Black Jack," A Dublin Public House

The reminiscence of Billy Crossley, the publican of the inn in Thomas Street, serves to establish Harry Talbot as something of a blade of the turf. The scene is the Wicklow steeple-chase, were "Master Henry" compacted a wager with Captain Steevens to race from Quin's door at Bray to Wicklow. As the picture makes clear, Harry dons the blue jacket of a postillion for the chaise of the Bishop of Cloyne (leaning out of the forward carriage, right of centre); the other chaise belongs to Captain Steevens (right, gesticulating). This is the anecdote that Billy the publican tells Mark. Apparently this self-same practical joker is the emissary despatched by the Irish party in France to make preparations for the French landing in support of the Rebellion of 1798.

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.]


Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

Lever, Charles. The O'Donoghue; A Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago. With 26 engravings by Phiz [Hablột Knight Browne]. Dublin: William Curry, Jun., 1845.

Lever, Charles. The O'Donoghue; A Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago. Illustrated by Phiz [Hablột Knight Browne]. Novels and Romances of Charles Lever. In One Vol. Project Gutenberg. Last Updated: May 11, 2010.

Stevenson, Lionel. Chapter VIII, "Heretic Among Tories, 1844-1845" and Chapter IX, "Nomadic Patriarch, 1845-1847." Dr. Quicksilver: The Life of Charles Lever. London: Chapman and Hall, 1939. Pp. 128-164.

Sutherland, John A. "Lever, Charles." The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford U. P., 1989, rpt. 1990, 372-374.

Created 4 January 2024