"I received a note —" he said very tremulously, in a voice like a Punch with a cold. —"Yes," returned the other, "You did." —"Exactly."—"Yes." (wood-engraving). 1876. 10.2 cm high x 13.8 cm wide, vignetted. — Fred Barnard's response to the static expository copper-plate engraving by George Cruikshank in the 1836 and 1839 editions. Whereas the earlier illustrator had contrived a discussion introducing the multiple-marriage plot obliquely as the boarders discuss the new female boarders, Barnard has provided both realistic portraiture of the older and younger suitors, and has underscored the comic misunderstanding of Septimus Hicks's momentarily thinking that they both are engaged to marry Miss Matilda Maplesone, when in fact Calton intends to marry the mother.

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.]

Passage Illustrated

"Tell Mr. Calton I'll come down directly," said Mr. Septimus to the boy. "Stop — is Mr. Calton unwell?" inquired this excited walker of hospitals, as he put on a bed-furniture-looking dressing-gown.

"Not as I knows on, sir,"​replied the boy.​"Please, sir, he looked rather rum, as it might be."

"Ah, that's no proof of his being ill,"​returned Hicks, unconsciously. "Very well: I'll be down directly."​Down-stairs ran the boy with the message, and down went the excited Hicks himself, almost as soon as the message was delivered. "Tap, tap."​ "Come in."​— Door opens, and discovers Mr. Calton sitting in an easy-chair. Mutual shakes of the hand exchanged, and Mr. Septimus Hicks motioned to a seat. A short pause. Mr. Hicks coughed, and Mr. Calton took a pinch of snuff. It was one of those interviews where neither party knows what to say. Mr. Septimus Hicks broke silence.

"I received a note —"​he said, very tremulously, in a voice like a Punch with a cold.

"Yes," returned the other, "you did."



Now, although this dialogue must have been satisfactory, both gentlemen felt there was something more important to be said; therefore they did as most men in such a situation would have done — they looked at the table with a determined aspect. The conversation had been opened, however, and Mr. Calton had made up his mind to continue it with a regular double knock. He always spoke very pompously.

"Hicks,"​said he, "I have sent for you, in consequence of certain arrangements which are pending in this house, connected with a marriage."

"With a marriage!" gasped Hicks, compared with whose expression of countenance, Hamlet's, when he sees his father's ghost, is pleasing and composed.

"With a marriage,"​returned the knocker. "I have sent for you to prove the great confidence I can repose in you."

"And will you betray me?" eagerly inquired Hicks, who in his alarm had even forgotten to quote.

"I​betray you! Won't you betray ​me?"

"Never: no one shall know, to my dying day, that you had a hand in the business,"​responded the agitated Hicks, with an inflamed countenance, and his hair standing on end as if he were on the stool of an electrifying machine in full operation. — "Tales, " Chapter 1, "The Boarding-House, Chapter I," p. 135.


The dialogue between the younger and older bachelors sets up a rather complicated marriage plot that results in Mrs. Tibbs's losing all of her boarders, and having to replace them in the sequel, a division that reflects the story's serial and periodical publication circumstances, for the first chapter in "Tales" was in fact

Two sketches, originally published in the Monthly Magazine (May, August 1834), describing romantic intrigues in Mrs. Tibbs's boarding house in Great Coram Street [Bloomsbury]. In the first, the three male boarders (Mr. Simpson, Mr. Septimus Hicks, and Mr. Calton) each arrange secret marriages to Mrs. Maplestone and her two daughters. In the second, the presence of Mrs. Bloss, a hypochrondriac widow, prompts romantic intrigues among the male boarders. — Paul Davis, p. 39.

In this first dialogue, the older boarder, Mr. Calton (left), and the younger boarder, Mr. Hicks (right), discussing their marital plans in Calton's room momentarily misapprehend each other's intentions before they realise that the older man has proposed to Mrs. Maplestone while the younger has proposed to Miss Matilda Maplestone (the confusion being caused by mother and daughter sharing the same Christian name), and that therefore they are allies rather than rivals. We encounter the wood-engraving in the midst of the letterpress, but over the page, once the pair have resolved their confusion, and Hicks agrees to approach "the man of the house" (an unlikely title for the "petticoat-governed" Mr. Tibbs) to give the bride away. Barnard effectively communicates the old beau's seriousness and the younger man's confusion, the mirror in between them establishing that this is Calton's bedroom, and that their circumstances (despite their age differences) reflect one another's. The marriage schemes begin well enough, with Hicks's marrying the one daughter, and Mr. Simpson's marrying the other, Miss Julia. However, Calton runs off and is sued for breach of promise, resulting in the mother's recovering a thousand pounds in court-costs and damages. Subsequently, too, for whatever reason, Hicks abandons his wife, whereas Mrs. Simpson after six weeks runs off with an army officer. A blight of some sort seems to hang over Mrs. Tibbs's boarding-house.

Relevant Illustrations from Various Editions, 1839 through 1910

Left: George Cruikshank's​ expository illustration for the first instalment of the short story, The Boarding House, the discussion of the young women boarders by the male boarders, The Boarding House. (1839). Centre: Sol Eytinge, Jr.s's comic study of the drunken Mr. Tibbs's being confronted by his shrewish wife in The Boarding-House (1867). Right: Harry Furniss's comic study of a most animated Mr. Tibbs, trying​ to kiss one of the young, attractive housemaids, in The Boarding House: Mr. Tibbs (1910). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Above: Fred Barnard's second illustration for the story, in which the new boarder, the wealthy widow Mrs. Bloss, ​is confused about Mrs. Tibbs's use of the expression "no stomach" (as in "no appetite"), "No what?" inquired Mrs. Bloss with a look of the most indescribable alarm. "No stomach," repeated Mrs. Tibbs with a shake of the head (1876).​[Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 16 May 2017