Background Information: Browne and the 1848-49 Irish Novel

During the period of gestation for Roland Cashel, Charles Lever had transferred his family from a luxurious villa on the shores of Lake Como, playground of a fabulously rich international community, to the Casa Standish in Florence, which he styled the "Palazzo Standish." Owing to copyright problems with his former publisher, the now-bankrupt Curry, Lever was living beyond his means. The only thing that kept him afloat financially was the regular advances from Chapman and Hall on the new novel, which he had begun at the Villa Cima in Como. He had little hope of recuperating any profits from stupendous American sales because of cheap piracies over there, and could only hope that Chapman and Hall could negotiate control of the copyrights from Curry. No sooner had the colourful Lever party settled in Florence than revolutions broke out: "Florence is the only tranquil spot in Europe," he wrote to a correspondent.

By this time, Roland Cashel was being published by Chapman & Hall in the customary monthly parts. Lever's anxieties prevented him from having much enthusiasm for it: "It is very hard, under such circumstances, to write anything imaginative — the stern cry of reality drowning the small whispering of fancy." Nevertheless, the novel is among his best, and his divagation from his original plan did not prevent it from being soundly and coherently constructed, The shift of scene from Columbia to Ireland gave scope for striking contrasts in the experience of the hero, abruptly transformed from a buccaneering adventurer into a millionaire, and the sequels of his first exploits were skilfully woven into the plot. The only flaw in the story is the constant intermingling of two unassimilable literary genres — grim melodrama and mordant social satire. The melodramatic plot builds up to a climax of murder with many of the neat devices of a modern detective story, and has an Iago-like villain who is strangely convincing — indeed Lever protested that "I made but a faint copy of him who suggested that personage, and who lives and walks the stage of life as I write (in 1871). One or two persons who know him are aware that I have neither overdrawn my sketch nor exaggerated my drawing."

In the satire on Dublin society, he paid off many grudges. "The whole dramatis personae are portraits," he gleefully old Spencer. [Stevenson, Dr. Quicksilver, pp. 173-174]

Geographical and Socio-political Associations: Victorian Ireland

Illustrations for Roland Cashel (May, 1848 — November, 1849)

Commentary by Michael Steig (1978): An Abundance of Dark Plates (1848-49)

The dark plate technique, first used in 1847, is applied to all the plates in Lever's Roland Cashel (1848-49), which is thus unique among the full-length novels that Browne illustrated. In some of the etchings the only function of the technique is to produce an even tint, softening the general tone; in others, the grayish background helps to set off the foreground subject (for example, Bravo Toro!); and in several, a basically dark tone plays against grays of varying shades and white highlights. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these latter is Bravo Toro! (illustration 121), a horizontal plate in which a horde of stampeding bison emerge from gray skies and form an almost abstract pattern of black bodies and white eyes around the protagonist on his struggling white horse. Browne displays his compositional abilities in A meeting under the Greenwood tree, where trunks and foliage form a design around the human figures. The artist varied the texture with great effectiveness by using several kinds of roulette. In some of the interior scenes, the mechanical tint adds a degree of depth uncharacteristic of most such subjects among Phiz's work, and at least some reviewers were impressed: Chapman and Hall's catalogue for November 1849 quotes the Edinburgh News on the topic of Roland Cashel to the effect that "the illustrations by Phiz are the finest we have ever seen anywhere, combining, in a new and noble style, line with etching, thus producing all the mellowness of mezzotint in the happiest manner." The dark plate is, indeed, a kind of shortcut to mezzotint effects, whereby the laborious pretreatment of the steel with a "rocker" is bypassed. The inclusion of such a quotation in advertising suggests that the publishers were well aware of the part played by Browne's illustrations in the sale of Lever's novels. [Steig, pp. 307-308]

The Novel's Twenty Serial Instalments, with Two Plates Each

Scanned images and texts 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.]


Buchanan-Brown, John. Phiz! Illustrator of Dickens' World. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978.

Lester, Valerie Browne Lester. Chapter 11: "'Give Me Back the Freshness of the Morning!'" Phiz! The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004. Pp. 108-127.

Lever, Charles. Roland Cashel. Illustrated by Phiz [Hablot Knight Browne]. London: Chapman and Hall, 1850.

Lever, Charles. Roland Cashel. Illustrated by Phiz [Hablot Knight Browne]. Novels and Romances of Charles Lever. Vols. I and II. In two volumes. London: Routledge, 1877, Rpt. Boston: Little, Brown, 1907. Project Gutenberg. Last Updated: 19 August 2010.

Steig, Michael. Chapter One, "Illustration, Collaboration, and Iconography." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 1-23.

Stevenson, Lionel. Chapter X, "Onlooker in Florence, 1847-1850." Dr. Quicksilver: The Life of Charles Lever. London: Chapman and Hall, 1939. Pp. 165-183.

_______. "The Domestic Scene." The English Novel: A Panorama. Cambridge, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin and Riverside, 1960.

Started 5 October 2002 Last updated 29 October 2022