Wackford Squeers and the New Pupil
18 cm. by 12.4 cm.
From Character Sketches from Dickens, facing p. 40 (illustrating Nicholas Nickleby)
Scanned image, caption, and commentary below by Philip V. Allingham
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In contrast to Copping's highly realistic and three-dimensional study of the notorious Yorkshire schoolmaster Wackford Squeers in the coffee-room of the Saracen's Head Inn at Snow Hill, near Newgate Prison, London, Phiz's study for the initial instalment of the serialised novel Nicholas Nickleby (April 1838) seems cartoonish. The passage that both illustrators have chosen occurs early in chapter 4, shortly before Nicholas first lays eyes on the villainous pedagogue:
Mr. Squeers was standing in a box by one of the coffee-room fireplaces. . . . In a corner of the seat was a very small deal trunk, tied round with a scanty piece of cord; and on the trunk was perched—his lace-up half-boots and corduroy trousers dangling in the air—a diminutive boy, with his shoulders drawn up to his ears, and his hands planted on his knees, who glanced timidly at the schoolmaster from time to time, with evident dread and apprehension.
Shortly, as in Phiz's original illustration, Mr. Snawley arrives, and Squeers breaks off berating the boy, destined for the Yorkshire school that Dickens and Browne had actually visited. As Snawley and his two stepsons enter, Squeers pretends to be sharpening the tip of a pen with a pen-knife. As in the text, in Copping's watercolour transformed into a lithograph and mounted on a separate page the schoolmaster feigns "to be intent upon mending a pen, and offering benevolent advice to his youthful pupil." Although Copping has eliminated Snawley and his two stepsons, he has retained the background elements of the "box" of the coffee-room (including the seat and table), the pupil on the deal trunk, and as many of the details of Dickens's description of Squeers as possible: the one functional eye, the wrinkled face of sinister cast, the low forehead, the white neckerchief, the short trousers and over-sized jacket of the scholastic suit. The picture's flooring and Squeers's stance imply a cinematic "zooming in" from the more distant perspective that Phiz adopted in describing the scene. Copping's child, who is both too well-fed and well-dressed and not nearly frightened enough, somewhat spoils the effect of the character study. However, as in Phiz's much more theatrical, "tableau vivant" realization of the scene, Copping's focus is very much the troglodyte schoolmaster,
B. W. Matz's Original Foreword to Copping's Illustrations for Nicholas Nickleby
In writing Nicholas Nickleby the chief object Dickens had in mind was the exposure of "the monstrous neglect of education in England, and the disregard of it by the State, as a means of forming good or bad citizens, and miserable or happy men." He aimed at doing this by showing up, as a notable example, the cheap Yorkshire schools which notoriously flourished at the time. That he succeeded in his object is well known, and even when a later edition of the book was published, Dickens was able to say in a preface to it that the race of schoolmasters of whom Squeers was a typical example, was fast dwindling away.
Matz, B. W., and Kate Perugini; illustrated by Harold Copping. Character Sketches from Dickens. London: Raphael Tuck, 1924. Copy in the Paterson Library, Lakehead University.
Last modified 30 March 2009