Mr. Micawber achieves the Downfall of Heep by Harry Furniss. Twenty-seventh illustration for Dickens's Personal History and Experience of David Copperfield, Volume 10 in the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), Chapter LII, "I Assist an an Explosion," facing page 768. 9.8 x 14.9 cm (3 ⅞ by 5 ⅞ inches), vignetted. Caption: The triumphant flourish with which Micawber delivered himself of the words, had a powerful effect in alarming the mother, who cried out in much agitation, "Ury! Ury! Be 'umble, and make terms, my dear!"Copperfield, p. 755. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: Micawber becomes Heep's Histrionic Nemesis

The triumphant flourish with which Mr. Micawber delivered himself of these words, had a powerful effect in alarming the mother; who cried out, in much agitation:

"Ury, Ury! Be umble, and make terms, my dear!"

"Mother!" he retorted, "will you keep quiet? You’re in a fright, and don’t know what you say or mean. Umble!" he repeated, looking at me, with a snarl; "I’ve umbled some of ‘em for a pretty long time back, umble as I was!"

Mr. Micawber, genteelly adjusting his chin in his cravat, presently proceeded with his composition.

“‘Second. HEEP has, on several occasions, to the best of my knowledge, information, and belief —’"

"But that won’t do," muttered Uriah, relieved. "Mother, you keep quiet."

"We will endeavour to provide something that WILL do, and do for you finally, sir, very shortly,’ replied Mr. Micawber.

“Second. HEEP has, on several occasions, to the best of my knowledge, information, and belief, systematically forged, to various entries, books, and documents, the signature of Mr. W.; and has distinctly done so in one instance, capable of proof by me. To wit, in manner following, that is to say:‘”

Again, Mr. Micawber had a relish in this formal piling up of words, which, however ludicrously displayed in his case, was, I must say, not at all peculiar to him. I have observed it, in the course of my life, in numbers of men. It seems to me to be a general rule. In the taking of legal oaths, for instance, deponents seem to enjoy themselves mightily when they come to several good words in succession, for the expression of one idea; as, that they utterly detest, abominate, and abjure, or so forth; and the old anathemas were made relishing on the same principle. We talk about the tyranny of words, but we like to tyrannize over them too; we are fond of having a large superfluous establishment of words to wait upon us on great occasions; we think it looks important, and sounds well. As we are not particular about the meaning of our liveries on state occasions, if they be but fine and numerous enough, so, the meaning or necessity of our words is a secondary consideration, if there be but a great parade of them. And as individuals get into trouble by making too great a show of liveries, or as slaves when they are too numerous rise against their masters, so I think I could mention a nation that has got into many great difficulties, and will get into many greater, from maintaining too large a retinue of words.

Mr. Micawber read on, almost smacking his lips:

“To wit, in manner following, that is to say. Mr. W. being infirm, and it being within the bounds of probability that his decease might lead to some discoveries, and to the downfall of — HEEP’S — power over the W. family, — as I, Wilkins Micawber, the undersigned, assume—unless the filial affection of his daughter could be secretly influenced from allowing any investigation of the partnership affairs to be ever made, the said — HEEP — deemed it expedient to have a bond ready by him, as from Mr. W., for the before-mentioned sum of twelve six fourteen, two and nine, with interest, stated therein to have been advanced by — HEEP — to Mr. W. to save Mr. W. from dishonour; though really the sum was never advanced by him, and has long been replaced. The signatures to this instrument purporting to be executed by Mr. W. and attested by Wilkins Micawber, are forgeries by — HEEP. I have, in my possession, in his hand and pocket-book, several similar imitations of Mr. W.‘s signature, here and there defaced by fire, but legible to anyone. I never attested any such document. And I have the document itself, in my possession.’”

Uriah Heep, with a start, took out of his pocket a bunch of keys, and opened a certain drawer; then, suddenly bethought himself of what he was about, and turned again towards us, without looking in it.

“‘And I have the document,”’ Mr. Micawber read again, looking about as if it were the text of a sermon, ‘“in my possession,—that is to say, I had, early this morning, when this was written, but have since relinquished it to Mr. Traddles.”’

"It is quite true," assented Traddles.

"Ury, Ury!" cried the mother, "be umble and make terms. I know my son will be umble, gentlemen, if you’ll give him time to think. Mr. Copperfield, I’m sure you know that he was always very umble, sir!"

It was singular to see how the mother still held to the old trick, when the son had abandoned it as useless. [Chapter LII, "I Assist an an Explosion," pp. 755-757]

Commentary: Furniss dramatizes Heep's Comeuppance

Phiz in his original serial sequence had passed over the "denunciation" scene entirely, and Barnard's handling of it in the Household Edition is hardly either vigorous or engaging: Micawber is simply too static. Furniss, therefore, set out to inject Baroque action caught in a frozen moment as a dervish of a Micawber passes judgment upon the devious malefactor who has caused the other characters so much trouble, and has robbed Micawber of his sense of self. However, his experiences at Heep and Whitfield equip him with a store of legal knowledge and procedures that will serve him well in later life as the Magistrate at Port Middlebay (Melbourne Bank), Australia.

In the lithographic study of the eight characters in various postures, and focused on the central antagonists, the window-panes and bookcases sketched into the background establish that the setting is the Canterbury law offices of Heep and Whitfield. Within this broad stage Furniss has stationed the dynamic accuser, the bald-headed Micawber, ruler raised, centre, almost snarling at the cringing Heep (right). To the left, Tommy Traddles (readily identifiable by his hair) attempts to interject. Mr. Dick and Aunt Betsey (goggle-eyed) sit quietly (upper left), and David and Agnes are stationed to the right, with David in the margin, holding Agnes's chair. The remaining figure, an elderly housewife, must be Uriah’s mother, commiserating with her son. Again, Furniss has distorted the antagonist's visage and given him writhing, demonic fingers.

Realisations of Heep's Nemesis and its Consequences (1850 and 1872)

Left: Fred Barnard's Household Edition equivalent lacks Phiz's comic dynamism: "And the name of the whole atrocious mass is — Heep!" (1872). Right: Phiz's original serial illustrations jump over the denunciation and show Heep and Littimer as penitentiary inmates: I am shewn two interesting penitents (October 1850).

Relevant Illustrated Editions of this Novel (1849 through 1910)

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.]


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

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Created 23 March 2022