The Last Brawl between Sir Mulberry and His Pupil
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby
Source: Steig, plate 32; reproduced by permission of the author
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The action here, as in Phiz's riot scenes for Barnaby Rudge and A Tale of Two Cities, swirls around a central vortex, here the savage mask of Sir Mulberry Hawk, impassioned, irrational, and vengeful. Infuriated still by his being reproved and injured by Nicholas before he decamped for Belgium to recover, Sir Mulberry assaults his dupe, Lord Frederick Verisopht, after the latter has begun to see his former friend in a more reasonable and realistic light. Dickens's rhetoric of debauched combat amidst a crowd of inebriates is well matched by Phiz's exuberant composition, capturing effectively in the second medium the spirit of "Tumult and frenzy" in the letterpress:
It was nearly midnight when they rushed out, wild, burning with wine, their blood boiling, and their brains on fire, to the gaming-table.
Here, they encountered another party, mad like themselves. The excitement of play, hot rooms, and glaring lights, was not calculated to allay the fever of the time. In that giddy whirl of noise and confusion, the men were delirious. Who thought of money, ruin, or the morrow, in the savage intoxication of the moment? More wine was called for, glass after glass was drained, their parched and scalding mouths were cracked with thirst. Down poured the wine like oil on blazing fire. And still the riot went on. The debauchery gained its height; glasses were dashed upon the floor by hands that could not carry them to lips; oaths were shouted out by lips which could scarcely form the words to vent them in; drunker losers cursed and roared; some mounted on the tables, waving bottles above their heads, and bidding defiance to the rest; some danced, some sang, some tore the cards and raved. Tumult and frenzy reigned supreme; when a noise arose that drowned all others, and two men, seizing each other by the throat, struggled into the middle of the room.
A dozen voices, until now unheard, called aloud to part them. Those who had kept themselves cool, to win, and who earned their living in such scenes, threw themselves upon the combatants, and, forcing them asunder, dragged them some space apart.
"Let me go!" cried Sir Mulberry, in a thick hoarse voice. "He struck me! Do you hear? I say, he struck me. Have I a friend here? Who is this? Westwood. Do you hear me say he struck me!"
"I hear, I hear," replied one of those who held him. "Come away, for to-night!"
"I will not, by G—" he replied. "A dozen men about us saw the blow."
"To-morrow will be ample timer" said the friend.
"It will not be ample time!" cried Sir Mulberry. "To-night at once, here !" His passion was so great, that he could not articulate, but stood clenching his fist, tearing his hair, and stamping on the ground.
Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book, 1910.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.
Last modified 9 May 2009