"Heyling!" said the old man wildly. "My boy, Heyling, my dear boy, look, look!" Gasping for breath, the miserable father pointed to the spot where the young man was struggling for life. by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Household Edition (1874) of Dickens's Pickwick Papers, p. 145. Engraved by one of the Dalziels. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Phiz provided illustrations for the interpolated short story "The Queer Client" in both the 1836-37 serial and the 1873 Household Edition. In contrast, Thomas Nast in the American Household Edition elected not to illustrate "The Old Man's Tale about the Queer Client" in chapter 21, even though he had provided an illustration for "The Stroller's Tale" in chapter 3.

Over the course of 1836, in addition to writing the liberetto for John Hullah's The Village Coquettes, the last pieces for Sketches by Boz, The Pickwick Papers, and the farce The Strange Gentleman, Charles Dickens wrote and published a total of ten short stories, the ninth of which was "The Old Man's Tale about the Queer Client," although this is but one of nine tales by various tellers that Dickens inserted into the midst of the adventures of Pickwick and his followers. Narrated by a suitably lugubrious old attorney's clerk, the eccentric Jack Bamber, at the Magpie and Stump Inn around the fire, "The Queer Client" draws on Dickens's resources for a first-person tale of suspense tinged with supernatural and melodramatic elements, with a suitable atmosphere created by an earlier description of the dismal, wainscotted bachelor's apartments at Clifford's Inn, a preliminary to the real story. Pickwick is not far from home since the Magpie and stump is near Clare Market in Holborn, east London; the originals proposed for the inn include the Old Black Jack and the George the Fourth, both located in Portsmouth Street and both demolished in 1896.

In that the initial setting of "The Old Man's Tale about the Queer Client" is the Marshalsea, the smallest of London's debtors' prisons in the 1830s, the readers of Forster's Life of Charles Dickens, to which Household Edition readers would have had access, would have noted an autobiographical strain in the morbid "vengeance" narrative with psychological overtones and a stunning dream sequence; moreover, the period in which the story is set is precisely that of Dickens's experiencing London's streets as a child and of John Dickens's incarceration in the Marshalsea when Charles worked in Warren's Blacking. Rather than simply revisit his 1836-38 engraving of Heyling's confronting his antagonist, Phiz chose to realise the first emotionally-charged meeting of the pair for his 1873 illustration. Thus, he has chosen two distinct moments for his illustrations of the story, so that the Household Edition's woodcut does not merely rehearse but rather augment that of November 1836, the 1873 woodcut realising the earlier of the two narrative moments, the drowning of Heyling's brother-in-law.

The 1873 illustration depicts a highly coincidental meeting. George Heyling, who has recovered from months of delirium in the Marshalsea, has come to the sea coast to recover his health. Heyling refuses to intervene to save the life of his brother-in-law, who while swimming has been caught up in a current as his father watches helplessly from shore. Heyling, having suffered the loss of wife and child while in prison, refuses to accede to the father's plea for help since Heyling's in-laws, though they had the power, elected not to assist their daughter and her son. Thus, the picture captures the melodramatic moment at which George Heyling (immovable, right) by failing to act takes vengeance on his callous relatives — the brother-in-law drowning (up left), his clothes piled on a rock (down left), and his father-in-law (centre). Although Phiz has represented effectively the rocky shore and vigorous waves, the picture is curiously lacking in depth of field, as if the seascape is a theatrical backdrop for some nautical melodrama. The frantic "old man" of the story does not seem particularly frantic or elderly, and George Heyling, although implacable, hardly seems to be the young protagonist bent on vengeance. The gesture of the father and the stern posture of Heyling are also reminiscent of the Victorian stage, which often dramatised tales of injustice and vengeance upon those with money who fail to act to relieve the sufferings of friends, neighbours, and relatives. By the 1870s, such class-conscious melodrama must have seemed rather old-fashioned to Victorian readers familiar with the rise of the well-made play, a form which nevertheless drew on such properties of the earlier melodrama as steadily building suspense and a duel of wits between hero and villain.


The Last Visit of Heyling to the Old Man [Click on image to enlarge it.]

In the November 1836 engraving, "The Last Visit of Heyling to the Old Man," Phiz realises the climactic scene in which Heyling, have secured his enemy's economic demise by acquiring all his promissory notes, confronts his elderly father-in-law in his garret in Little College Street, Camden Town, near the Veterinary Hospital (a locale twelve-year-old Charles Dickens must have known well). As Heyling throws off his travelling cloak and cap to disclose his own features, the old man (last seen on the seashore) is stunned into silence:

The old man seemed instantly deprived of the power of speech. He fell backward in his chair, and clasping his hands together, gazed on the apparition with a mingled look of abhorrence and fear.

"'This day six years,' said Heyling, 'I claimed the life you owed me for my child's. Beside the lifeless form of your daughter, old man, I swore to live a life of revenge. I have never swerved from my purpose for a moment's space. . . .' [147]

Jane Rabb Cohen in Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators notes that the 1838 revision of the 1836 engraving defines the interior more sharply and renders the figures more effective by intensifying their expressions:

he first strengthens the lines defining the ceiling beams, window, window panes, and door in the interior in which the visit takes place. The originally effete expressions of both men become intensely dramatic as terror is added to the older face, a fierce scowl to the younger, more enlarged one. [66]

The single candle with its halo divides the space occupied by the terrified old man as he cringes, leaning far to the left in his arm-chair, and the implacable Heyling, whose left arm remains dramatically in mid-air as he has just revealed himself. The old man is much diminished from the previous scene, as if Heyling's relentless pursuit of him over several years has taken its toll, whereas Heyling, dressed entirely in black, seems to have grown in stature. Phiz has positioned the figures so that Heyling, immediately in front of the stout wooden door of the garret, effectively blocks the old man's escape. The menacing shadows loom over Heyling, connoting dark intentions, whereas the object of his vengeance casts no shadow, so insubstantial has he become.


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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. Formatting by George P. Landow. [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. Pickwick Papers. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874; New York: Harpers, 1874.

Last modified 9 March 2012