Sir Archie and the Beggars (facing p. 53) — Phiz's fourth serial engraving for Charles Lever's The O'Donoghue; A Tale of Ireland Fifty Years Ago. Steel engraving for Chapter VII, "Sir Archie's Temper Tried" (February, 1845). 10.4 cm high by 13.5 cm wide (4 ⅛ by 5 ⅜ inches), vignetted. Instalment No. 2 in monthly serialisation by William Curry, Jun. and Company, Dublin. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated

“No, by the way, it was the night before I mean. I did not see you last night; but, cheer up, my dear boy; we've sent for Roach — he'll put you to rights at once. I hope Mark may reach home before the doctor goes. I'd like to have his advice about that strain in the back.”

These last words were uttered in soliloquy, and seemed to flow from a train of thought very different from that arising from the object before him. Sunk in these reflections, he drew near the window, which looked out upon the old court-yard behind the house, and where now a very considerable crowd of beggars had assembled to collect the alms usually distributed each morning from the kitchen. Each was provided with an ample canvas bag, worn over the neck by a string, and capable of containing a sufficiency of meal or potatoes, the habitual offering, to support the owner for a couple of days at least. They were all busily engaged in stowing away the provender of various sorts and kinds, as luck, or the preference of the cook, decided, laughing or grumbling over their portions, as it might be, when Sir Archibald M'Nab hurriedly presented himself in the midst of them — an appearance which seemed to create no peculiar satisfaction, if one were to judge from the increased alacrity of their movements, and the evident desire they exhibited to move off.

The O'Donoghue laughed as he witnessed the discomfiture of the ragged mob, and let down the window-sash to watch the scene. [Chapter VII, "Sir Archie's Temper Tried," pp. 52-53]

Commentary: Irish Poverty in The Hungry Forties

Although Phiz and Lever seem to feel that the poverty-stricken mass of Irish peasantry gathered in the O'Donoghues' courtyard is a laughing matter, such indigence and hunger were especially dire in the Ireland of the Hungry Forties, at its height precisely when the novel was in serialisation. Although Lever's intention seems to have been to explore the causes of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the present illustration must have struck readers as particularly pertinent to the social problems of contemporary Ireland. Already by the time that this instalment appeared Lever and his family had quitted Ireland for Brussels; part of the impetus for the family's relocation must have been a vigorous fist-fight that Lever had on his estate with a surly trespasser.

The text accompanying the doling out of food emphasizes the importance of the potato in the Irish diet. The Great Potato Famine, as it was called, began in 1845, and lasted until 1852, as a result of crop failures occasioned by the potato blight; the net result was a twenty-five per cent decline in the country's population due to starvation and emigration. Such Irish as the paupers whom Phiz has depicted in caricatural fashion would have been among the million who died.

The brilliance of the illustration is its distinguishing each of the nineteen beggars through salient details which Lever has provided: Phiz captures Sir Archy M'Nab (right) in his suit, stockings, and silver buckled pumps — and, of course, his sharp facial features, thinning grey hair, and queque. Phiz gives us the irate, old beggar on crutches (upper left), a female beggar with one eye (centre), the fat fellow with the night-cap, and notably, nearest Sir Archy (right of centre), "an old hag, with a sack on her back, large enough to contain a child" (53). The dilapidated bit of wall (rear centre) comments ironically on the ability of the O'Donoghue to fulfill the expectations of the beggars, not one of whom expresses any desire to go the ten miles to fetch Dr. Roach at Killarney for the feverish Herbert in exchange for Sir Archy's offered pieces of silver. Thus, Lever connects this humorous scene to Herbert's rescuing Sybella Travers and her father, Sir Marmaduke, from drowning in the overflowing creek at pulpit Rock as they attempt to make their way back to their estate from the priest's cottage in the previous chapter.

The Irish Famine and the Hungry Forties

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 14 December 2023