Little Paul Dombey and Florence on the Seashore by Harold Copping. Headpiece illustration for "List of Coloured Plates" in Mary Angela Dickens's Children's Stories from Dickens in the Raphael Tuck edition (1893), p. 6. 9.5 x 13 cm (4 by 5 inches) vignetted. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passages Illustrated: Paul Enjoys the Bracing Sea Air and Florence's Company

“I want to know what it says,” he answered, looking steadily in her face. “The sea, Floy, what is it that it keeps on saying?”

She told him that it was only the noise of the rolling waves.

“Yes, yes,” he said. “But I know that they are always saying something. Always the same thing. What place is over there?” He rose up, looking eagerly at the horizon.

She told him that there was another country opposite, but he said he didn’t mean that: he meant further away — farther away!

Very often afterwards, in the midst of their talk, he would break off, to try to understand what it was that the waves were always saying; and would rise up in his couch to look towards that invisible region, far away. [Chapter VIII, "Paul’s Further Progress, Growth and Character"]

As the weeks went by little Paul grew more healthy-looking, but he did not seem any stronger, and could not run about out of doors. A little carriage was therefore got for him, in which he could be wheeled down to the beach, where he would pass the greater part of the day. He took a great fancy to a queer crab-faced old man, smelling of sea-weed, who wheeled his carriage, and held long conversations with him; but Florence was the only child-companion whom he ever cared to have with him, though he liked to watch other children playing in the distance. [Mary Angela Dickens, 105]

Commentary: Paul enjoys visiting the seaside

"What the waves are always saying" to little Paul Dombey unfolds a child's perspective on contemporary natural-theological and millenarian speculations. — Jennifer Gribble.

Harold Copping seems to have had a specific moment in mind for this illustration of Paul in his invalids's carriage. The text indicates that the rippling of the seawater "under the wheels of his carriage seemed to perfectly content little Paul" (105), but as he looks towards the French coast he seems perturbed, and Florence seems to be reassuring him. Logically, the dialogue realised must concern "What place is over there" and "what is it the sea keeps saying?" (105).

As one of the four illustrations in the front matter (and one of the few captioned plates for the tenth chapter, "Little Paul Dombey") this plate requires a proleptic reading. In other words, the child-reader must have kept it in mind for over a hundred pages, and probably reverted to it to clarify the scene on the Beach at Brighton. Little Paul Dombey and Florence on the Seashore does not include Paul's crab-like conductor (whom earlier illustrators have included), but does suggest that he is perturbed by the horizon-line and the sounds of the waves. Thus, Copping has chosen a melancholy moment in which a sickly but precocious child of five confronts his own mortality. One of just five illustrations involving little Paul, this illustration exists outside the narrative-pictorial sequence for the tenth chapter, as a foreshadowing of the demise of the delightful child-protagonist who leaves the story too soon as he is reunited with his mother's spirit, the mother whom he never knew:

"Floy, mamma is like you, I can see her. Come close to me, Floy, and tell them," whispered the dying boy, "that the face of the picture of Christ on staircase at school is not divine enough; the light from it is shining on me now, and the water is shining too, and rippling so fast, so fast." [109]

Portraits of Mr. Dombey and Little Paul from Other Editions (1873, 1877, and 1900)

Left: W. H. C. Groome's derivative study of Paul Dombey and his sister on the beach at Brighton: She hurriedly put her work aside. (1900). Centre: W. L. Sheppard's version of this same scene in the American Household Edition: "The sea, Floy, what is it that it keeps on saying?" (1873). Right: Paul's only escape from the dreary halls of the child-minder's Brighton establishment is accompanying his sister to the beach, as depicted by Fred Barnard in the Household Edition: Listening to the Sea (1877).

Related Material, including Other Illustrated Editions of Dombey and Son (1846-1910)

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. Formatting, color correction, and linking by George P. Landow. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Dickens, Charles. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Hablot K. Browne ("Phiz"). [1846-48] The Clarendon Edition, ed. Alan Horsman. Oxford: Clarendon, 1974.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. The Works of Charles Dickens. The Household Edition. 55 vols. New York: Sheldon and Company, 1862. Vols. 1-4.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr., and engraved by A. V. S. Anthony. 14 vols. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867. III.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by W. L. Sheppard. The Household Edition. 18 vols. New York: Harper & Co., 1873.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Fred Barnard [62 composite wood-block engravings]. The Works of Charles Dickens. The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877. XV.

__________. Dombey and Son. With illustrations by  H. K. Browne. The illustrated library Edition. 2 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, c. 1880. II.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. 61 wood-engravings. The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877. XV.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by W. H. C. Groome. London and Glasgow, 1900, rpt. 1934. 2 vols. in one.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book, 1910. Vol. IX.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Hablot K. Browne ("Phiz"). 8 coloured plates. London and Edinburgh: Caxton and Ballantyne, Hanson, 1910.

Dickens, Mary Angela, Percy Fitzgerald, Captain Edric Vredenburg, and Others. Illustrated by Harold Copping with eleven coloured lithographs. Headpiece for "List of Coloured Plates," Children's Stories from Dickens. London: Raphael Tuck, 1893. Page 6.

Gribble, Jennifer. "Chapter 3: Dombey and Son: 'What the Waves were Always Saying'." Dickens and the Bible: 'What Providence Meant'. New York: Routledge, 2021.

Created 25 January 2022