The Rehearsal by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Illustration for Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time (1859). The story was serialised by Chapman and Hall in monthly parts, from July 1857 through April 1859.

Scanned image by Simon Cooke; colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary 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.] Click on the image to enlarge it.

Bibliographical Note

This plate appeared as the fifth serial illustration for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, Part 3 (September 1857), Chapter 9, "A Day on the Lake of Como," facing page 78 in the 1859, single-volume edition. Steel-plate etching, 3 ¾ by 5 ¾ inches (9.9 cm high by 14.4 cm wide), vignetted. The story was serialised by Chapman and Hall in monthly parts, from July 1857 through April 1859. The seventh and eighth illustrations in the volume initially appeared in reverse order at the very beginning of the third monthly instalment, which went on sale on 1 September 1857. This number included Chapters VII through XI, and ran from page 65 through 96.

Passage Illustrated: The introduction of Molly O'Reilly to High Society

"Lord-Lieutenant!" said Molly, opening her eyes to the fullest.

"Even so, ma belle. Shall we rehearse the ceremony of presentation? Twining, do you perform the Chamberlain. Stand aside, O'Reilly; be a gentleman at large, or an Ulster King-at-arms. Now for it!” And so saying, he drew himself proudly up to an attitude of considerable dignity, while Twining, muttering to himself, "What fun!" announced aloud, "Miss Molly O'Reilly, your Excellency;" at which, and before she was aware, his Excellency stepped one step in advance, and sainted her on either cheek with a cordiality that covered her with blushes.

"That's not it, at all, I'm certain," said she, half angrily.

"On my life, it's the exact ceremony, and no more,” said the Viscount. Then resuming the performance, he added, “Take care, Twining, that she is put on your list for the balls. O'Reilly, your niece is charming." [Chapter IX, "A Day on the Lake of Como," pp. 78-79]

Commentary: Irish Politics and Coming Out

The eighth chapter's title, "Mr. Dunn," had promised the reader more than a mere nocturnal glimpse of the financial wizard, who, nevertheless, makes no appearance in the September illustrations. Rather, O'Reilly, Twining, and Molly O'Reilly consult Viscount Lackington in a garden pavilion at the Como estate. Phiz's underscoring the scene in the pavilion overlooking the lake compels the reader to attend to Lever's intertwining the British political scene of late 1856/early 1857 with the social life of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and upper middle class during this period. The plate's caption, The rehearsal, points to Molly's anticipating "coming out" as a debutante in the forthcoming season, as well as Viscount Lackington's hopes of becoming the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland after the forthcoming general election. The scene occurs in a place redolent with romantic associations for the middle-aged peer:

He had sauntered with Molly into the garden and a little pavilion at the end of it, where the lake was seen in one of its most picturesque aspects. It was a well-known spot to him; he had passed many an evening on that low window-seat, half dreamingly forgetting himself in the peaceful scene, half consciously recalling pleasant nights at Brookes's and gay dinners at Carlton House. Here was it that he first grew hipped with matrimony, and so sated with its happiness that he actually began to long for any little disaster that might dash the smooth monotony of his life; and yet now, by one of those strange tricks memory plays us, he fancied that the moments he had once passed here had never been equalled in all his after-life. [86]

The scene in which Molly pretends that she is being presented to the Lord Lieutenant at Dublin Castle involves her "coming out" into aristocratic womanhood and the marriage market. Since during the nineteenth century the London social season started when Parliament recommenced in late January, one may reasonably assume that, until 1801, the winter sitting of the Irish parliament likewise initiated the Dublin version of "The Season." The social period continued through the end of June, when the onset of hot, humid weather in the capital drove aristocratic families back to their country estates. Aside from military reviews, charity events, balls, vistings, and dinner parties, the London season featured "coming out" (débutante) balls which began with the presentation of the débutantes at the Court of St. James. On each of the two or three presentation days, up to two hundred young, aristocratic women could be seen queueing up in their carriages outside St. James's Palace.

As Lever suggests through the gossipy Twining, the débutante ceremony would have been staged at Dublin Castle rather than at the Lord Lieutenant's lodge at Phoenix Park. As Lever, writing this instalment in the summer of 1857 would have known, the Liberals (a union of the Radicals and the Whigs) under Viscount, Lord Palmerston were poised in the autumn of the previous year to form government. Viscount Lackington as one of Ireland's leading Whigs is anticipating being named Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, a post second only at that time to the Irish Secretary, a cabinet office at Westminster. Counterfeiting the actual ceremony, with which he seems highly familiar, Lackington enlists Twining to enact the role of the Chamberlain, and O'Reilly to be a gentleman at large, or an Ulster King-at-arms.


Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1859.

Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: The Man of The Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, September 1857 (Part III).

Last modified 4 August 2019