"And the name of the whole atrocious mass is — HEEP!" Forty-eighth illustration for the 1872 Household Edition of David Copperfield (illustrating a moment in Chapter XLIX, "I Am Involved in a Mystery," but positioned on p. 345). Descriptive Headline: "Mr. Micawber Goes Off" (355). 9.4 cm x 13.8 cm (3 ¾ by 5 ½ inches), framed. [Click on the image to enlarge it. Mouse over text for links.]

Commentary: Micawber Publicly Denounces Heep for Legal Malpractice

"Mr. Micawber," said I, "what is the matter? Pray speak out. You are among friends."

"Among friends, sir!" repeated Mr. Micawber; and all he had reserved came breaking out of him. "Good heavens, it is principally because I AM among friends that my state of mind is what it is. What is the matter, gentlemen? What is not the matter? Villainy is the matter; baseness is the matter; deception, fraud, conspiracy, are the matter; and the name of the whole atrocious mass is — HEEP!"

My aunt clapped her hands, and we all started up as if we were possessed.

"The struggle is over!" said Mr. Micawber violently gesticulating with his pocket-handkerchief, and fairly striking out from time to time with both arms, as if he were swimming under superhuman difficulties. "I will lead this life no longer. I am a wretched being, cut off from everything that makes life tolerable. I have been under a Taboo in that infernal scoundrel’s service. Give me back my wife, give me back my family, substitute Micawber for the petty wretch who walks about in the boots at present on my feet, and call upon me to swallow a sword tomorrow, and I’ll do it. With an appetite!"

I never saw a man so hot in my life. I tried to calm him, that we might come to something rational; but he got hotter and hotter, and wouldn’t hear a word.

"I’ll put my hand in no man’s hand," said Mr. Micawber, gasping, puffing, and sobbing, to that degree that he was like a man fighting with cold water, "until I have — blown to fragments — the — a — detestable — serpent — HEEP! I’ll partake of no one’s hospitality, until I have — a — moved Mount Vesuvius — to eruption — on — a — the abandoned rascal — HEEP! Refreshment — a — underneath this roof — particularly punch — would — a — choke me — unless — I had — previously — choked the eyes — out of the head — a — of — interminable cheat, and liar — HEEP! I — a — I’ll know nobody — and — a — say nothing — and — a — live nowhere — until I have crushed — to — a — undiscoverable atoms — the — transcendent and immortal hypocrite and perjurer — HEEP!"

I really had some fear of Mr. Micawber’s dying on the spot. [Chapter XLIX, "I Am Involved in Mystery," 354]


How could any illustrator adequately do justice to the hailstorm of dashes in Wilkins Micawber's volatile denunciation of his scheming employer, Uriah Heep? But every major illustrator of the novel except Phiz (September 1850) and Sol Eytinge, Junior (1867) has certainly attempted to realize a pair of preeminently dramatic scenes in the last movement of the novel. Afterwards, their mutual confidence restored, Emma and Wilkins Micawber undertake the greatest decampment of their lives: Australian Emigration (another of Dickens's pet causes during the late 1840s).

Setting the scene in Aunt Betsey's parlour in Highgate, Barnard imparts a decidedly theatrical flare to the denunciatory pillar of the law clerk, clenched fist held aloft, as he pronounces his Jeremiad whose theme is that "Heep of Infamy." Holding centre stage, Micawber delivers his monologue before fit audience though few. The witnesses to the highly charged scene that, ironically, Phiz never attempted in the 1849-50 serialisation, include Tommy Traddles (right, as identified by his unruly hair), Aunt Betsey Trotwood (left foreground), and the recorder and close observer of the scene, David Copperfield (upper left). Barnard's masterful handling of his materials is reflected in the later treatment by W. H. C. Groome, a smaller-scale lithograph that is more crowded than the scene by Barnard in the Household Edition, and far less stagey. But then Groome is illustrating the second denunciation scene that occurs a week later, in Canterbury.

Therefore, missing entirely from Barnard's initial depiction of Micawber's diatribe are Uriah and his mother, Mr. Dick, and Agnes Wickfield, all of whom are later present when Micawber confronts Heep in the Wickfield law offices in Canterbury in Chapter LII. Barnard's backdrop is suitable to the Highgate house of Betsey Trotwood. Barnard realizes the second dramatic denunciation in "Approach me again, you — you — you heep of infamy," gasped Mr. Micawber, "and if your head is human, I'll break it. Come on, come on!" (page 361, but occurring in the text of Chapter LII).

Studies of Wilkins Micawber in Other Editions (1867 through 1910)

Left: Harry Furniss's Charles Dickens Library Edition version of the same scene heightens the domestic melodrama as Micawber flourishes the ruler: Mr. Micawber achieves the Downfall of Heep (1910). Right: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s 1867 portrait of the Micawbers: Mr. Micawber and His Family. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Left: Kyd (Clayton J. Clarke) captures Micawber's characteristic shabby-genteel look in the Player's Cigarette Card: Mr. Micawber (1910). Centre: In the seventeenth serial instalment containing the dramatic confrontation Phiz focuses instead on the aftermath: Restoration of mutual confidence between Mr. and Mrs. Micawber" (September 1850). Right: W. H. C. Groome offers almost photographic realism in his version of the same denunciation scene: "You — you Heep of infamy." (1907).

Related Material

Scanned image and text 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.]

The copy of the Household Edition from which this picture was scanned was the gift of George Gorniak, Editor of The Dickens Magazine, whose subject for the fifth series, beginning in January 2010, is this novel.


Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1988.

Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). The Centenary Edition. 2 vols. London and New York: Chapman & Hall, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.

_______. The Personal History of David Copperfield. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 14 vols. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867. Vol. V.

_______. David Copperfield, with 61 illustrations by Fred Barnard. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1872. Vol. III.

_______. The Personal History and Experiences of David Copperfield. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. X.

Created 25 August 2016

Last modified 18 August 2022