The Appointed Time by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne) for Bleak House, facing p. 320 (Part Ten: December 1852, ch. 32, "The Appointed Time"). 4 ½ x 4 ⅝ inches (11.8 cm by 11.3 cm). For text illustrated, see below. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: Mr. Guppy and the Lodger he installed at Nemo's

Mr. Guppy takes the light. They go down, more dead than alive, and holding one another, push open the door of the back shop. The cat has retreated close to it and stands snarling, not at them, at something on theground before the fire. There is a very little fire left in the grate, but there is a smouldering, suffocating vapour in the room and a dark, greasy coating on the walls and ceiling. The chairs and table, and the bottle so rarely absent from the table, all stand as usual. On one chair-back hang the old man's hairy cap and coat.

"Look!" whispers the lodger, pointing his friend's attention to these objects with a trembling finger. "I told you so. When I saw him last, he took his cap off, took out the little bundle of old letters, hung his cap on the back of the chair — his coat was there already, for he had pulled that off before he went to put the shutters up — and I left him turning the letters over in his hand, standing just where that crumbled black thing is upon the floor." . . . .

They advance slowly, looking at all these things. The cat remains where they found her, still snarling at the something on the ground before the fire and between the two chairs. What is it? Hold up the light.

Here is a small burnt patch of flooring; here is the tinder from a little bundle of burnt paper, but not so light as usual, seeming to be steeped in something; and here is — is it the cinder of a small charred and broken log of wood sprinkled with white ashes, or is it coal? Oh, horror, he IS here! And this from which we run away, striking out the light and overturning one another into the street, is all that represents him.

Help, help, help! Come into this house for heaven's sake!

Plenty will come in, but none can help. The Lord Chancellor of that Court, true to his title in his last act, has died the death of all Lord Chancellors in all Courts and of all authorities in all places under all names soever, where false pretences are made, and where injustice is done. Call the death by any name Your Highness will, attribute it to whom you will, or say it might have been prevented how you will, it is the same death eternally — inborn, inbred, engendered in the corrupted humours of the vicious body itself, and that only — Spontaneous Combustion, and none other of all the deaths that can be died. [Chapter XXXII, "The Appointed Time," 320; Project Gutenberg etext (see bibliography below)]

Commentary: A Strange Case of Spontaneous Combustion

As the Chancery lawyers, clerks, and justices have retired for the night, the legal-stationer, Mr. Snagsby, is taking his after-dinner stroll when he bumps into Mr. Weevil. This newcomer to the court does copywork for Snagsby, and currently occupies the room where Mr. Snagsby's former employee "Nemo" (Captain Hawdon) lived and died. Weevil is apprehensive because he is living in the rooms of a dead man.

Guppy then arrives surreptitiously as he and his "plant," Tony Jobling (alias, "Mr. Weevil)", have agreed to meet Krook in his shop at midnight to receive whatever papers showing Nemo's handwriting he may have on hand. Guppy plans to make a legal confiscation of the documents in hopes that they will lead to identifying Nemo as Captain Hawdon. As Tony and Guppy wait in Nemo's former garrett, they become aware of a certain oily oppressiveness that seems to be emanating from the shop below. Weevil descends to keep his appointment, but suddenly returns, alone, and in considerable distress. Guppy joins Tony as he returns to Mr. Krook's shop which is vacant, except for Krook's cat which is snarling at a pool of some foul-smelling, burnt substance on the floor. Then they realize the unthinkable: the smouldering, stinking matter is what remains of Krook, who has spontaneously combusted.

Related Material, including Other Illustrated Editions

Image scan and text by George P. Landow; additional 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.]


Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). London: Bradbury & Evans. Bouverie Street, 1853.

_______. Bleak House. Project Gutenberg etext prepared by Donald Lainson, Toronto, Canada (, with revision and corrections by Thomas Berger and Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D. Seen 9 November 2007.

Steig, Michael. Chapter 6. "Bleak House and Little Dorrit: Iconography of Darkness." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. 131-172.

Vann, J. Don. "Bleak House, twenty parts in nineteen monthly instalments, October 1846—April 1848." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: The Modern Language Association, 1985. 69-70./

Created 13 November 2007

Last modified 9 March 2021