Frontispiece: "Went slowly and gravely down the slide, with his feet about a yard and a quarter apart" [p. 178] by Thomas Nast, in Charles Dickens's The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club, Chapter XXX, "How the Pickwickians made and Cultivated the Acquaintance of a Couple of Nice Young Men Belonging to One of the Liberal Professions; How They Disported Themselves on the Ice; and How Their Visit Came to a Conclusion." Wood-engraving, 5 inches high by 7 ⅝ inches wide (13 cm high by 19.3 cm wide), framed, full-page, horizontal plate vertically mounted; referencing text on page 178.

Scanned image, 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.]

Passage Illustrated: Pickwick on Ice at Dingley Dell

Mr. Pickwick paused, considered, pulled off his gloves and put them in his hat; took two or three short runs, baulked himself as often, and at last took another run, and went slowly and gravely down the slide, with his feet about a yard and a quarter apart, amidst the gratified shouts of all the spectators.

"Keep the pot a-bilin’, Sir!" said Sam; and down went Wardle again, and then Mr. Pickwick, and then Sam, and then Mr. Winkle, and then Mr. Bob Sawyer, and then the fat boy, and then Mr. Snodgrass, following closely upon each other’s heels, and running after each other with as much eagerness as if their future prospects in life depended on their expedition.

It was the most intensely interesting thing, to observe the manner in which Mr. Pickwick performed his share in the ceremony; to watch the torture of anxiety with which he viewed the person behind, gaining upon him at the imminent hazard of tripping him up; to see him gradually expend the painful force he had put on at first, and turn slowly round on the slide, with his face towards the point from which he had started; to contemplate the playful smile which mantled on his face when he had accomplished the distance, and the eagerness with which he turned round when he had done so, and ran after his predecessor, his black gaiters tripping pleasantly through the snow, and his eyes beaming cheerfulness and gladness through his spectacles. And when he was knocked down (which happened upon the average every third round), it was the most invigorating sight that can possibly be imagined, to behold him gather up his hat, gloves, and handkerchief, with a glowing countenance, and resume his station in the rank, with an ardour and enthusiasm that nothing Could abate. [Chapter XXX, "How the Pickwickians made and Cultivated the Acquaintance of a Couple of Nice Young Men Belonging to One of the Liberal Professions; How They Disported Themselves on the Ice; and How Their Visit Came to a conclusion," page 178]

Commentary: A Classic Pickwick Scene: On the Ice at Dingley Dell Farm

By the 1870s, the jovial comfortable world of the Regency was fast fading from people's memories as modern economics, transportation, and recent conflicts such as the Crimean War and the American Civil War crowded out memories of that simpler age. Nast fondly recalls English village life for modern American readers.

Nast's Other "Pickwick-on-Ice" Scenes in Chapter 30

Commentary: Phiz and Nast revise — Phiz

In the very first plate, "Went slowly and gravely down the slide with his feet about a yard and a quarter apart. [Page 178]," Nast introduces his American readers to one of the most celebrated comic moments in the picaresque novel that established Dickens as a professional author. Nast has appreciative bystanders enjoy the spectacle of Pickwick and the Fat Boy unassisted (and of city-man Sam Weller supported, centre) attempting to slide. Despite the flaring of Pickwick's coat-tails, the image conveys little sense of speed, whereas Phiz's original reinterpretation, with a more lithe Pickwick and an appreciative crowd on and off the ice surrounding him, suggests — if not speed — at least action. Nast's three-dimensional, realistic figures transform the scene from a somewhat stilted cartoon into a naturalistic observation of the community at festival welcoming a visitor to participate in their pastimes.

Possibly Nast had an unusual experience in constructing the scene in that he has had two examples of the same artist's realisation of the scene. Early in 1837, twenty-three-year-old Hablot Knight Browne, working in the style and medium of the great caricaturist George Cruikshank presented the comic spectacle of the middle-aged, retired urban businessman, the overweight and physically inept Samuel Pickwick tempting to slide on the ice of a country pond. Forty years later, having read and re-read the entire volume of The Pickwick Papers, the same artist working in the new, realistic manner of the sixties, re-interpreted the same scene, offering satirical cartoonist Thomas Nast a valuable model — if, indeed, Chapman and Hall had forwarded to Harper's in New York a copy of the volume that was to lead off the series to be called the Household Edition. Sensing that the work was not entirely competent as the overture to the new edition, Chapman and Hall had held up publication of Phiz's revised illustrations until younger illustrators such as Fred Barnardcould entice the broader British reading public of the 1870s to start purchasing the new, uniform large format edition.

Nast reflects his personal affiliation with the average person by developing each of the observers of the winter festival in some detail, whereas he maintains the traditional image of the rotund, be-spectacled Samuel Pickwick given him by Robert Seymour and the great Phiz, now sadly in decline in terms of his powers as a graphic artist. But Nast approached his material with a rather different intention: rather than simply showing the inability of an urbanite to participate in rural sports, Nast depicts an elderly man trying something new. And rather than simply ridiculing the genial protagonist for his physical awkwardness on the ice, Nast has the three onlookers in the foreground regard Mr. Pickwick's efforts with sympathetic approval. He brings the farm buildings into focus, just right of centre on the horizon, and provides a wholly believable background, even depicting in the foreground the broom with which the skaters have cleared the snow from the pond and the discarded skates in the foreground. As is consistent with the yuletide setting, the enormous tree that occupies the left-hand quadrant and frames the sliders is of a coniferous species. Against this wealth of realistic detail Nast juxtaposes the seven cartoon-like sliders themselves, with an excessively rotund Pickwick and his factotum, Sam Weller, in the centre.

Whereas Phiz builds the composition of the awkwardly balanced figure of Pickwick, his arms stretched out to balance himself in the 1837 illustration and provides a considerable cast of nondescript extras to swell the scene, Nast reduces the scale of the epic scene to render it more naturally, focussing on just three sympathetic, individualised spectators rather than the enormous but rather anonymous spectators crowding the shore of the pond to the right.

Relevant Illustrations from Both of Phiz's Programmes (1836 and 1874)

Left: In the 1874 Household Edition of the novel Phiz has modelled his illustration on his own February 1837 engraving: Mr. Pickwick . . . . went slowly and gravely down the slide, with his feet about a yard and a quarter apart, amidst the gratified shouts of all the spectators. Right: Phiz's original interpretation first appeared in monthly part 11: is a realistic study Mr Pickwick Slides. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Related Material

References

Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. The Household Edition. Illustrated by Thomas Nast. New York: Harper and Brothers 1873.

Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. The Household Edition. Illustrated by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1874.


Last modified 26 May 2019