He raised his manacled hands in a threatening attitude, fixed his eyes on his shrieking parent, and slowly left the room. (wood-engraving). 1876. 10.7 cm high x 13.8 cm wide, framed. — Fred Barnard's stage-like rendering of a tale not illustrated by Dickens's original illustrator George Cruikshank in either the 1836 or 1839 editions of Sketches by Boz (John Macrone; Chapman & Hall), but the subject of no less that three separate wood-engravings by Fred Barnard in the Household Edition, volume 13 (1876). The father, named only "Warden" in the text, lacking any funds after the death of his adolescent daughter, is easily seduced into imbibing "free drinks" at the local tavern with two apparently well-meaning strangers. They assure him that they intend to help his son escape aboard a ship departing shortly from the nearby docks. Thus, through his alcoholism, he inadvertently betrays his son's whereabouts to the police-spies, who apprehend the youth in his father's hovel after they have followed Warden home.

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

The young man stooped for an instant over the girl, and then turned fiercely round upon his father, who had reeled against the wall, and was gazing on the group with drunken stupidity.

"Listen to me, father," he said, in a tone that made the drunkard’s flesh creep. "My brother's blood, and mine, is on your head: I never had kind look, or word, or care, from you, and alive or dead, I never will forgive you. Die when you will, or how, I will be with you. I speak as a dead man now, and I warn you, father, that as surely as you must one day stand before your Maker, so surely shall your children be there, hand in hand, to cry for judgment against you." He raised his manacled hands in a threatening attitude, fixed his eyes on his shrinking parent, and slowly left the room; and neither father nor sister ever beheld him more, on this side of the grave. — "Tales," chap. xii, p. 236.


Life story of a drunkard: his wife dies in wretched poverty; his sons are transported or killed; his daughter leaves him; and, finally, he drowns himself in the Thames. This story was written for the Second Series of Boz. — Paul Davis, p. 120.

Whereas Dickens's original illustrator, George Cruikshank, did not provide an engraving for the final short story in either the second series of Macrone's edition of Sketches by Boz or the Chapman and Hall serialisation and subsequent single volume of 1839, Fred Barnard has provided three wood-engravings, the last a tailpiece reminiscent of Phiz's illustration of the ignominious fate of the odious Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop. "The Drunkard's Death" had not appeared in any periodical prior to Macrone's publishing it in the Second Series (17 December 1836). Fred Barnard, born in 1846, probably encountered it for the first time in the 15 May 1839 single-volume Chapman and Hall anthology rather than the final (June 1839) instalment; obviously impressed with its social realism, Barnard focuses the reader's attention on the ultimate piece in the collection by providing a trio of wood-engravings, making it the most highly illustrated piece in volume 13 of the Household Edition of 1876.

Although most of the sketches in this work were originally published as separate entries in various magazines and journals between 1833 and 1836, the 8 February 1836 edition does represent the first appearance of five of the sketches: "A Visit to Newgate," "The Black Veil," "The Great Winglebury Duel," "Our Next-Door Neighbour," and "The Drunkard's Death" — three of which involve crime and punishment, and the darkening shadows of the prison house. Whereas Cruikshank had concluded his program of illustration with the humorous anecdote The Bloomsbury Christening, Barnard places his emphasis upon the final cautionary tale, an antidote to the excessive bourgeois complacency and materialism evidenced in so many of these brief farces in prose in the final section, "Tales," is the ultimate, more weighty and socially realistic selection, "The Drunkard's Death," not illustrated and therefore not emphasized as a memento mori in the 1839 edition, but given tremendous emphasis by Barnard in his three wood-engravings in the final pages of the Household Edition.

Barnard realises the scene of betrayal and apprehension as if it were the climax of the second act of a contemporary melodrama, a dramatic form whose conventions govern the downward trajectory of the working-class Warden family. The guilt-ridden father, having spent half of his small stock of money at the local tavern in Fleet Street, cringes at the left. His daughter, Mary, having collapsed on the bare wooden floor (left of centre) after she saw the men following her father, is in the foreground. Upstage centre, the angry son, just arrested for robbery and murder, raises his manacled hands, cursing his pathetic parent, believing that his father has betrayed him. The other two figures, ushering their prisoner out of the room through the door they have left open, are suitably individualised by their postures and hats, even though Dickens merely denotes one as "Tom." In the corner is the family's storage-box, mentioned earlier; the only other properties are a stool and a fireplace (left). No family portraits look down upon the action from the bare, cracked walls. The scantily-clad daughter is weeping, and her father, oppressed by guilt, is about to collapse in the corner. This is a turning point in his downward-spiralling fortunes, for, when he awakes the next morning, the girl has gone. An imaginative touch not mentioned by Dickens is the guttering candle stuck in a bottle, apparently the sole source of illumination in the room. Barnard has injected variety into the composition by putting each character distributing the five figures within the confined space, with the son at the rear. The father and the stranger, right of centre and nearly in line, and the daughter and other stranger bracketing the scene. In contrast, on the facing page, the outcast and alienated alcoholic stares right, out of the frame.

Other Nineteenth-century illustrations for "The Drunkard's Death"

Left: Felix Octavius Carr Darley's second frontispiece depicting the pathetic scene in which Mrs. Warden dies, probably of a combination of malnutrition and disease, The Drunkard's Death. (1864). Right: Barnard's moving portrait of the homeless alcoholic, Looks that he had long forgotten were fixed upon him once more; voices long since hushed in death sounded in his ears like the music of village bells. — "Tales," Ch. 12. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Above: The final Barnard illustration, depicting the drunkard's body washed up on the shore of Thames, Uncaptioned tailpiece. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 2 June 2017