ccording to Robert L. Patten, what mattered in the railway age was not the initial sales of Dickens's novels but their "progressive increase in circulation with each succeeding year, edition, and generation of readers" (343). “Undaunted by the contempt towards Dickens expressed in the journals, Chapman and Hall went ahead with plans for the Household edition, which began appearing in 1871 in small quartos with vile woodcuts from new designs by the partly paralysed Browne. In this effort they may have been influenced by an obituary article in The Graphic, 13 June 1870” (327). This periodical pointed out that “despite the bewildering array of inexpensive formats exploited by Dickens and his publishers to reach the masses,” there was a dearth of cheap popular editions that had brought to the masses the works of other noted writers such as Sir Walter Scott. “With us, in fact, Dickens has yet to become, as he inevitably will become, the favourite of the poorer classes . . . . An edition of Thackeray in penny numbers would be certainly a doubtful experiment: but of an edition in that form Dickens's works . . . what might not be expected?” (cited in Patten, 327).
Hoping to capitalise on the early 1870s nostalgia for all things Dickens, Chapman and Hall decided to bring out a wholly new edition of Dickens's works in a uniform, two-column format, thereby capitalising on American and British continued respect for Household Words. They chose this format despite the fact that it required extensive programs of illustration by contemporary artists. Instead of saving money by commissioning relatively unknown illustrators such as Fred Barnard, Chapman and Hall instead opted in 1872 for an artist who would immediately arouse wide-spread public interest in the new edition — Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne), whom Dickens's adoring readers fondly remembered as the great writer's co-presenter in a string of novels spanning Dickens's career, from The Pickwick Papers in 1836 to A Tale of Two Cities in 1859. Despite suffering a paralytic stroke in 1867 while on a seaside holiday, Browne remained productive and inventive. If Valerie Browne Lester has correctly dated the Chapman and Hall commission to 1871, then we must assume that Browne's pace of composition was indeed leisurely, even glacial, compared to his former output — the result of the loss of sight in his right eye and loss of full function in his right hand. She lists nothing again until 1875, by which point Phiz had regained most of the use of his right hand.
Clearly Chapman and Hall's was a huge commission for an artist with failing health and eyesight, but his name was almost iconic, even in 1873, so that Chapman and Hall must have counted on his "bankability" (as Hollywood would have it) to launch the new, expensive venture. Although no stranger to the woodcut, Phiz was best remembered for his steel engravings in the novels of Dickens and Lever. Therefore, redrafting many of his original Pickwick illustrations as woodcuts, was something of a gamble — even more so because they now had (a) a horizontal orientation a full-page wide, but now only one-third-of-page high. Robert L. Patten (1978), Michael Steig (1978), and Jane Rabb Cohen (1980) do not speculate as to why Phiz, whose style was markedly old fashioned when compared to the new realism of the Sixties illustrators, should have received the commission when Chapman and Hall already had Fred Barnard under contract. As Paul Davis says, "by 1860 Browne's style, grounded in the graphic-satiric tradition of Hogarth, was no longer appropriate" (45), and we cannot deem his attempt to re-do his etchings as woodcuts entirely successful, but at least they take us where Steig does not, to an appreciation of his final major commission after which the 1867 paralysis often prevented him from working during the last nine years of his life. Phiz's last significant commission came in 1875 for one hundred designs for the new "Harry Lorrequer" edition of Lever's works, to be issued by Routledge between 1876 and 1878. Perhaps Routledge, like Champan and Hall, recognized that Phiz's post-1867 drawings, "while broad and clumsy compared to the elegance of his work in the 1840s and 1850s, show verve, swing, and rollicking humour" (Lester 188). Only months after his stroke, “indomitably he struggled back to the grind of illustration and it seems incredible that, so short a time after what should have been a crippling illness, he could be producing work that is by no means despicable” (Buchanan-Brown 28).
Although perhaps not perhapsso great an artist as George Cruikshank, Phiz remained welded to Dickens in the minds of readers in England, although he had illustrated nothing by the great writer since late 1859. The choice of initial illustrator for Chapman and Hall's version of the Household edition of Pickwick must have seemed inevitable, despite the decline in both the quality and output of his work as a result of that mysterious paralysis of 1867. Phiz was still the necessary adjunct, especially to the early "Boz."
The situation differed somewhat in the post-Civil War United States, where two publishers both claimed to be Dickens's official licensees. In 1867 Ticknor and Fields of Boston acquired exclusive volume rights of reproduction, but Dickens still regarded Harper and Brothers of New York as his official serial publisher — as witnessed by his continuing to send the firm proof sheets from All the Year Round. Upon Dickens's death, exclusive publication rights appear to have devolved upon the house of Harper, which subsequently cast about for a suitable American artist to lead off the Household Edition in its copyright zone. The American illustrator whom Dickens most favoured in the 1860s, Sol Eytinge, Jr., was out of the question, for he was one of Ticknor Fields' house artists. The artist who had made a great name for himself recently through his political cartoons and Civil war illustrations, Thomas Nast, must naturally have come to Henry Harper's attention as exactly the sort of "big name" it could use to great effect in promoting the new joint venture with Chapman and Hall, despite the fact that, like Tenniel in England, Nast was a caricaturist rather than, like Phiz, an established illustrator of books. More to the point, he was already under contract to Harper and Brothers. However, the choice was not entirely inspired: since he was a political cartoonist rather than book illustrator, Nast tends to focus on Pickwick rather than realise significant moments in the narrative, so that one cannot call Nast's illustrations "realisations" of textual moments, which was still clearly Phiz's intention in his fifty-seven cuts for Chapman and Hall. Nast's program of cartoon-like illustrations is somewhat briefer: fifty-two.
Buchanan-Brown, John. Phiz! Illustrator of Dickens' World. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File and Checkmark Books, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers (1836-37). Il. Hablot Knight Browne. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1873.
Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers (1836-37). Il. Thomas Nast. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Bros., 1873.
Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto & Windus, 2004.
Patten, Robert L. Charles Dickens and His Publishers. Santa Cruz, Cal.: The Dickens Project, 1991; a rpt.. of the Oxford University Press edition of 1978.
Rasmussen, R. Kent. Mark Twain A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1995.
"Thomas Nast." Wikipedia, The
Online Encyclopedia. Accessed 15 January
Last modified 17 January 2012