At the end of Charles Lever's picaresque novel, Charles O'Malley, the Irish Dragoon (serialised 1840-41), Father Rush (shown with a long manuscript in Phiz's culminating illustration), supported by Father Peter Nolan, welcome the recently wed O'Malleys back to Ireland. The news of the Allied-British victory at Waterloo, in which O'Malley has proved his valour, is still ringing in their ears. Thus, Father Rush's oration congratulates the local boy on his military achievements and his recent marriage, and begins by focussing on two classical deities: Mars and Venus:

"When Mars, the god of war, on high,
Of battles first did think,
He girt his sword upon his thigh,
And —

and — what is't, Peter?"

"And mixed a drop of drink."

"And mixed a drop of drink," quoth Father Rush, with great emphasis; when scarcely were the spoken words than a loud shout of laughter showed him his mistake, and he overturned upon the luckless curate the full vial of his wrath.

"What is it you mean, Father Peter? I'm ashamed of ye; faith, it's may be yourself, not Mars, you are speaking of."

The roar of merriment around prevented me hearing what passed; but I could see by Peter's gestures — for it was too dark to see his face — that he was expressing deep sorrow for the mistake. After a little time, order was again established, and Father Rush resumed: —

"But love drove battles from his head, And sick of wounds and scars, To Venus bright he knelt, and said —

and said — and said; what the blazes did he say?"

"I'll make you Mrs. Mars,"

shouted Peter, loud enough to be heard.

"Bad luck to you, Peter Nolan, it's yourself's the ruin of me this blessed night! Here have I come four miles with my speech in my pocket, per imbres et ignes." Here the crowd crossed themselves devoutly. "Ay, just so; and he spoiled it for me entirely." At the earnest entreaty, however, of the crowd, Father Rush, with renewed caution to his unhappy prompter, again returned to the charge:

"Thus love compelled the god to yield
And seek for purer joys;
He laid aside his helm and shield,
And took —
took — took —"

"And took to corduroys,"

cried Father Nolan. [Chapter CXXII, "Conclusion," pp. 663-664]

The many hilarious interruptions in Father Rush's flight of classical allusions, so much a part of Lever's picaresque comic formula, are not in fact made by "Father Peter Nolan." They are courtesy of that university wag Frank Webber. He has turned up in Portumna (the village nearest the O'Malley estate in Galway) disguised as Father Nolan to effect a memorable finalé for the eponymous hero, his former Trinity College roommate.

Lever inserts this merry scene in the marketplace without any prior description of the couple's wedding and subsequent departure from Brussels. It is enough, apparently, that Lucy had elected to accept O'Malley just before her father, already knowing of and approving her choice, burst in upon the lovers at the very close of Chapter CXXI, "Brussels."

"And now," said she, while her eyes beamed upon me with a very flood of tenderness, "is it nothing that in my woman's heart I have glowed with pride at triumphs I could read of, but dared not share in? Is it nothing that you have lent to my hours of solitude and of musing the fervor of that career, the maddening enthusiasm of that glorious path my sex denied me? I have followed you in my thoughts across the burning plains of the Peninsula, through the long hours of the march in the dreary nights, even to the battle-field. I have thought of you; I have dreamed of you; I have prayed for you."

"Alas, Lucy, but not loved me!"

The very words, as I spoke them, sank with a despairing cadence upon my heart. Her hand, which had fallen upon mine, trembled violently; I pressed my lips upon it, but she moved it not. I dared to look up; her head was turned away, but her heaving bosom betrayed her emotion.

"No, no, Lucy," cried I, passionately, "I will not deceive myself; I ask for more than you can give me. Farewell!"

Now, and for the last time, I pressed her hand once more to my lips; my hot tears fell fast upon it. I turned to go, and threw one last look upon her. Our eyes met; I cannot say what it was, but in a moment the whole current of my thoughts was changed; her look was bent upon me beaming with softness and affection, her hand gently pressed my own, and her lips murmured my name.

The door burst open at this moment, and Sir George Dashwood appeared. Lucy turned one fleeting look upon her father, and fell fainting into my arms.

"God bless you, my boy!" said the old general, as he hurriedly wiped a tear from his eye; "I am now, indeed, a happy father." [661]

The triumphant mood of the present events contrasts sharply with that of O'Malley's earlier homecoming: four years before his success in both romance and war, O'Malley had experienced a very different parting and "return" to his native Ireland. Arriving at O'Malley Castle then, he had had to confront his uncle's hearse and coffin, and had found the Galway estate encumbered by debts to his relative, Mr. Blake, and his neighbour, Sir George Dashwood. True, he had been acknowledged as something of a hero for his part in the storming of the breach at Ciudad Rodrigo in 1812. But now he is a Waterloo veteran and a participant in the most significant British military action of the nineteenth century. The British-Prussian victory would have been studied and celebrated continually over the following decades, just as the Charge of the Light-Brigade in the Crimean War was to be from the 1855 onward. Certainly such place names as Waterloo Station (opened in 1848 as the London terminus of the Southwestern Railway in London) and Balaclava in Tennyson's heroic poem The Charge of the Light Brigade (1855) would be constant reminders to the British nation of their soldiers' valiant actions in both major European wars. Such place names continue to resonate through the naming of streets, districts, and natural features throughout the British Commonwealth and Anglosphere.

The whole first-person picaresque narrative, replete with interpolated tales and comic Irish airs courtesy of Mickey Free, would therefore have retained a certain charm with mid-Victorian readers, and part of that reader interest would have been Lever's assimilation of the entire Peninsula campaign and the circumstances surrounding Napoleon's Hundred Days and defeat by the master-strategist the Duke of Wellington in June 1815. After 1860, even though Lever's popularity with Victorian readers declined sharply, Charles O'Malley, The Irish Dragoon (1841), Barrington (1863), and A Day's Ride (1861) went through eight editions by 1873, although Chapman and Hall initially lost money on the 1861 and 1863 titles. As of 1933, Hyder E. Rollins in his slender edition of collected letters between Lever and Dickens reported that both "Harry Lorrequer and Charles O'Malley still have some degree of popularity, but nobody to-day, I suspect, reads A Day's Ride" (pp. x-xi).

Today the only readers who recognize the name Charles Lever are likely to be devotees of Dickens who recall that the greatest of Victorian novelists was forced to publish Great Expectations as a weekly serial because Lever's A Day's Ride was causing a disastrous drop in the circulation of the weekly magazine All the Year Round. Unfortunately for Lever's literary legacy, such readers associate the once-great novelist with a comparative failure, and have probably never heard of his best works: The Daltons, Roland Cashel, Harry Lorrequer, Charles O'Malley, Davenport Dunn, and Barrington.

Links to Related Materials


Christie, N. M. B. "Lever's Charles O'Malley — A Book to Recommend to a Friend?" Etudes Irlandaises, No. 4 (1979): pp. 33-55. DOI:

Lever, Charles. Charles O'Malley, The Irish Dragoon. "Edited by Harry Lorrequer." Dublin: William Curry, Jun. London: W. S. Orr, 1841. 2 vols.

Lever, Charles. Charles O'Malley, The Irish Dragoon. Illustrated by Phiz [Hablot Knight Browne]. Published serially in The Dublin University Magazine from Vol. XV (March 1840) through XVIII (December 1841). Dublin: William Curry, March 1840 through December 1841. London: Samuel Holdsworth, 1842; rpt., Chapman and Hall, 1873.

Lever, Charles. Charles O'Malley, The Irish Dragoon. Illustrated by Phiz [Hablot Knight Browne]. Novels and Romances of Charles Lever. Vol. I and Vol. II. In two volumes. Project Gutenberg. Last Updated: 2 September 2016.

Steig, Michael. Chapter Two: "The Beginnings of 'Phiz': Pickwick, Nickleby, and the Emergence from Caricature." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington and London: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 24-50.

Stevenson, Lionel. Chapter V, "Renegade from Physic, 1839-1841." Dr. Quicksilver: The Life of Charles Lever. London: Chapman and Hall, 1939. Pp. 73-93.

Webb, Alfred. "A Compendium of Irish Biography." "Charles James Lever." (1878). LibraryIreland. Accessed 9 April 2023.

Created 11 April 2023