ate in the spring of 1843, with monthly sales dropping and the public's interest in what had seemed a conventional bildungsroman flagging, Charles Dickens adopted the daring expedient of transporting his young hero across the Atlantic to the land of the brave and the home of the free, among a people whom Dickens had found neither particularly unfettered in their thinking nor courageous in the carrying out of the lofty principles of the Declaration of Independence. In contrast to Dickens, however, Hablot Knight Browne, his graphic collaborator, had never visited America, and so relied heavily upon Dickens's detailed letters of instruction and highly descriptive letterpress for the four American scenes, two set in New York and two in the wilderness of Eden in the Mississippi valley in Martin Chuzzlewit, parts seven and nine. In regarding these illustrations in isolation from the original monthly installments, in which the pair of plates always appeared ahead of the letterpress, the modern reader may fail to detect Phiz's governing principles of composition: contrast and parallelism. For example, in part seven, in the offices of the New York Rowdy Journal, a self-assured and coolly detached Martin calmly evaluates the two yellow journalists and their thin veneer of urbanity, while just outside their door sometime later Mark Tapley contemplates the freed slave, worn out by a lifetime's drudgery, and the abhorrent institution of slavery itself, the dark side of the American liberties and financial prosperity that the newspaper trumpets in every issue. Indeed, both Martin and his stalwart companion have found in the New World the vices and prejudices of the old writ large. Mark in particular has discovered "jolly" subjects for contemplation, subjects which make England seem in retrospect both civil and civilized. Against the unsubstantiated, high-flown rhetoric of the champagne-sipping editor Colonel Diver and his war correspondent, Jefferson Brick, we must weigh the reserved, courteous demeanour of the informed and tolerant physician Mr. Bevan and the abused humanity of the former slave Cicero, whose scars and infirmities speak more eloquently and truthfully of the state of the Union than the politicians and their lackeys, the "sensation" journalists. While Phiz does not show the marks of slavery upon Cicero, the artist offers his subject's emaciation and bent back as evidence of a youth filled with physical suffering, hardship, and privation.
Mr. Jefferson Brick proposes an appropriate sentiment [Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.]
On the other hand, in "Mr. Jefferson Brick proposes an appropriate sentiment," Phiz offers a number of visual details as tacit commentary upon the principals in the scene: bottles of ink and poison (presumably used by the editorial staff in equal portions), a slang dictionary, and a poster advertising "disclosures," presumably about the private lives of public figures, a tendency which in the letterpress Martin pronounces horribly "personal." Last but not least, as Cohen and Stein have noted, is the large but empty spider's web, upper left, above the master extortionist, the manipulative and self-satisfied Colonel Diver. The spider's web symbol appears once again in plate 17, "The thriving City of Eden as it appeared on paper," but in that second illustration for the September 1843 number the web is loaded with aerial victims, paralleling Mark and Martin's falling into Scadder's trap by buying land in a swamp. The layout of the town is not the typical grid pattern of most new American cities of the period, but rather a maze of crescents, a form echoing the spider's web, reinforcing the Hogarthian satire of the Eden Land Corporation as a swindle, of Scadder as a patient spider, and by implication of Martin and Mark as the gullible dupes.
Mr. Tapley succeeds in finding a jolly subject for contemplation [Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.]
In the seventeenth plate, Phiz has diverged from the letterpress in having Mark carve his full name rather than merely his initials upon the door of the newspaper, but then Dickens may not have specified this detail in his earlier instructions and Phiz may have elected not to change his design when he read the chapter in proof. As it stands, however, the illustration challenges the authority of the letterpress, the ornate signature asserting a kind of disrespectful "Mark Tapley was here" assertion. The sprawling, large-scale signature in a cloud of squiggles hovers above the recumbent figure, as if to identify Mark with the newspaper's "rowdiness." The "rowdy" nature of the office is reflected in the clippings strewn about the floor, and the "rowdy" nature of Diver and Brick by their choosing to sit on the large (and highly realistic) editor's that dominates the room rather than, like the more civilized Martin, upon a chair. With bemused interest Martin reads the paper as a whole, Brick cuts it to pieces.
Left: The Thriving City of Eden as it Appeared on Paper
Right: The Thriving City of Eden as it Appeared in Fact.
[Click on the thumbnails for larger images.]
The ninth number's companion pieces, both captioned in parallel and contrast by Dickens himself rather than by the illustrator, "The thriving City of Eden as it appeared on paper" and "The thriving City of Eden as it appeared in fact" (12.5 by 9.7 cm), invite us to compare Martin's response to the concept of the model town versus its actuality. The ideal in Martin's mind is of a place where, even as an untried architect, he can make his fortune and then return to England to claim the hand of Mary Graham. Whereas in the former scene, Mark is aloof and disinterested, in the latter he is actively engaged in the "jolly" labour of subduing the wilderness. Whereas Martin is entranced by the town plan and delighted to learn from Scadder that the new metropolis contains not a single architect, in the latter he seems to have abandoned all hope, and to be contemplating (like one of the toads that Phiz has supplied) jumping into the murky river's waters. The careful viewer will notice some telling details about the real estate office: the torn plaster, a mouse, and "the spider web where trapped flies suggest the fate of the naïve buyers" (Cohen 88). Although Phiz has been unable to convey a sense of the land-office's tiny dimensions, he has realized well the land-agent himself. Dickens's letter of 15-18 August 1843 may have specified the rocking chair and the spring-loaded knife with steel toothpick; however, since these details do not appear in the finished illustration, it is just as likely that they were after-thoughts which Dickens incorporated in the letterpress. The second part of this letter, however, dealing with the ninth installment's second subject, indicates clearly which aspects of the composition are Boz's and which Phiz's.
Cohen, Jane R. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1980.
Cunnington, C. Willett and Phillis. Handbook of English Costume in the Nineteenth Century. Boston, Great Britain: Plays, 1970.
Dickens, Charles. The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens. Ed. Madeline House, Graham Storey, & Kathleen Tillotson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1974. Volume 3 (1842-3).
Harvey, J. R. "Dickens and Browne: Martin Chuzzlewit to Bleak House." Victorian Novelists and Their Illustrators. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1970.
Lester, Valerie Browne. "Note on CD's Letter to Phiz, 15-18 June 1844." Personal communication, 16 May 2007.
— -. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.
Stein, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978.
— -. "Martin Chuzzlewit's Progress by Dickens and Phiz." DSA 2 (1972): 119-149.
Last modified 21 May 2007