by Thomas Nast (1873), Chapter IV, p. 29.
The illustration appears in the American Edition of Charles Dickens's The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club, Chapter IV, "A Field Day and a Bivouac — More New Friends — An Invitation to the Country," page 29. Wood-engraving, 4 ⅛ inches high by 5 ¼ inches wide (10.4 cm high by 13.3 cm wide), framed, half-page; referencing text on the same page; descriptive headline: "Mr. Pickwick between Two Fires" (p. 29) — precisely the same descriptive headline appears in the Chapman and Hall edition of 1874 on page 25 in the fourth chapter. New York: Harper & Bros., Franklin Square, 1873.
Scanned image, colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary 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 Pickwickians Cornered on a Field-day
"We are in a capital situation now," said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him. The crowd had gradually dispersed in their immediate vicinity, and they were nearly alone.
"Capital!" echoed both Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle.
"What are they doing now?" inquired Mr. Pickwick, adjusting his spectacles.
"I — I — rather think," said Mr. Winkle, changing color — "I rather think they're going to fire."
"Nonsense," said Mr. Pickwick hastily.
"I — I — really think they are," urged Mr. Snodgrass, somewhat alarmed.
"Impossible," replied Mr. Pickwick. He had hardly uttered the word, when the whole half-dozen regiments levelled their muskets as if they had but one common object, and that object the Pickwickians, and burst forth with the most awful and tremendous discharge that ever shook the earth to its centres, or an elderly gentleman off his.
It was in this trying situation, exposed to a galling fire of blank cartridges, and harassed by the operations of the military, a fresh body of whom had begun to fall in on the opposite side, that Mr. Pickwick displayed that perfect coolness and self-possession, which are the indispensable accompaniments of a great mind. He seized Mr. Winkle by the arm, and placing himself between that gentleman and Mr. Snodgrass, earnestly besought them to remember that beyond the possibility of being rendered deaf by the noise, there was no immediate danger to be apprehended from the firing. [Chapter IV, "A Field Day and a Bivouac — More New Friends — An Invitation to the Country," p. 29]
Commentary: The Pickwickians in the Line of Fire
With characteristic ineptitude, the Pickwickians, participating in rural exercises and pastimes, have placed themselves in an awkward (but not life-threatening) situation. The trio have the disconcerting experience of having the mustered troops discharge volleys of blanks at them. Trapped between the opposing lines, the trio bunches up, with Snodgrass and Tupman attempting to shield Pickwick, and the leader attempting to relieve their apprehensions lest a ball cartridge be fired by mistake during the military exercise. The scene is the fields that Dickens knew as a boy outside what is almost certainly the Medway towns of Rochester and Chatham. In this chapter Dickens may be recalling actual military exercises in the years immediately following the Napoleonic Wars; the future writer would undoubtedly have experienced such thrilling field-days first hand when his father was stationed at the Naval pay Office there.
Nast’s interpretation of the Pickwickians’s unnerving experience bunches the three figures together as if they are bowling pins and lightly sketches in the soldiers discharging their muskets in the background. In contrast, Phiz’s Household Edition illustration places the three Londoners in the foreground, vigorously tumbling out of the way. Neither of the original serial publications's illustrators — Robert Seymour and his successor, Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne) — had depicted the comic position in which the chief Pickwickians find themselves.
Whereas in his interpretation of the unnerving experience Nast merely bunches the three figures together as if they are bowling pins and lightly sketches in the soldiers discharging their muskets in the background, Phiz places the three Londoners, vigorously tumbling out of the way, in the foreground. Neither Household Edition illustrator depicts the townsfolk watching the military review since the illustrator in each case seems to feel that their presence is not germane to the physical comedy. However, part of the Pickwickians' discomfort is that the locals are observing their attempts to avoid the troops. Both field-day illustrations constitute a vast improvement in composition and physical comedy over one of Seymour's last serial illustrations, Pickwick in Chase of his Hat (Part II: May 1836). Whereas the troops, led by their officer on horseback, have already marched past the hapless tourists from the metropolis in Phiz's illustration, Nast momentarily leads readers to believe that the trio are in real danger as the riflemen appear to be discharging their pieces directly at Pickwick, Snodgrass (right) and Winkle (left, fainting and supported by Pickwick). Moreover, Nast has the trio engulfed as the line of musket-carrying soldiers extends across the entire width of the illustration, which occurs on the same page as the text illustrated.
Parallel Scene by Phiz in the British Household Edition (1874)
Above: Phiz's equally cartoonish 1874 wood-engraving of the farcical scene in which the trio are bowled over by the military parade, Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle had each performed a compulsory summerset with remarkable agility [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
Other artists who illustrated this work, 1836-74
- Robert Seymour (1836)
- Hablot Knight Brown (1836-37)
- Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1861)
- Sol Eytinge, Jr. (1867)
- Hablot Knight Browne (1874)
- A selected list of illustrations by Harry Furniss for the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910)
- Clayton J. Clarke's Extra Illustration for Player's Cigarettes (1910)
- Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (homepage)
- Nast’s Pickwick illustrations
- The complete list of illustrations by Seymour and Phiz for the original edition
- The complete list of illustrations by Phiz for the Household Edition
- An introduction to the Household Edition (1871-79)
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.
Dickens, Charles. "Pickwick Papers. Illustrated by Robert Seymour and Hablot Knight Browne. London: Chapman & Hall, 1836-37.
Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Engraved by A. V. S. Anthony. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. The Household Edition. Illustrated by Thomas Nast. New York: Harper and Brothers 1873.
Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ('Phiz'). The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874.
Last modified 14 August 2019