A Prairie-Evening Ride by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne), June 1848. Steel-engraving. 9.9 cm high by 17.8 cm wide (3 ⅞ by 7 inches), framed, full-page dark plate for Roland Cashel, Chapter IX, "Bravo, Toro!" facing p. 70. Steig, plate 121. [Return to the text of Steig, Ch. VII.] [Click on the image to enlarge it; mouse over links.]

Passage Illustrated: Lever's Personal Reminiscence among the Indians Transformed

“I resolved to regain my companions at once; danger is always easier to confront in company, and so I turned my horse's head to go back. The noise was now deafening, and so stunning that the very ground seemed to give it forth. My poor horse became terrified, his flanks heaved, and he labored in his stride as if overcome by fatigue. This again induced me to suspect an earthquake, for I knew by what singular instincts animals are apprised of its approach. I therefore gave him the spur, and urged him on with every effort, when suddenly he made a tremendous bound to one side, and set off with the speed of a racer. Stretched to his fullest stride, I was perfectly powerless to restrain him; meanwhile, the loud thundering sounds filled the entire air, — more deafening than the greatest artillery; the crashing uproar smote my ears, and made my brain ring with the vibration, and then suddenly the whole plain grew dark behind and at either side of me, the shadow swept on and on, nearer and nearer, as the sounds increased, till the black surface seemed, as it were, about to close around me; and now I perceived that the great Prairie, far as my eyes could stretch, was covered by a herd of wild buffaloes; struck by some sudden terror, they had taken what is called 'the Stampedo,' and set out at full speed. In an instant they were around me on every side, — a great moving sea of dark-backed monsters, — roaring in terrible uproar, and tossing their savage heads wildly to and fro, in all the paroxysm of terror. To return, or even to extricate myself, was impossible; the dense mass pressed like a wall at either side of me, and I was borne along in the midst of the heaving herd, without the slightest hope of rescue. I cannot — you would not ask me, if even I could — recall the terrors of that dreadful night, which in its dark hours compassed the agonies of years. Until the moon got up, I hoped that the herd might pass on, and at last leave me at liberty behind; but when she rose, and I looked back, I saw the dark sea of hides, as if covering the whole wide prairie, while the deep thunder from afar mingled with the louder bellowing of the herd around me. [Chapter IX, "An Exciting Adventure — Bravo, Toro!" pp. 69-70]

Commentary: Another Interior Narrative Flashback of Roland's Stirring Adventures

Roland entertains his new Irish friends, the Kennyfeck family of Marrion Square, Dublin, with further reminiscences of his South American adventures, even though, of course, the buffalo Stampedo is something that only the European traveller of the period would have witnessed on the American Great Plains or the Canadian Prairies. Lever reported that he had such adventures in 1827, although these have never been confirmed. After arriving in Canada after possibly serving as a shipboard physician's assistant in 1827, young Lever pushed westward by way of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain to the shores of Lake Erie, where he lived with the Tuscarora. "The adventures that followed seem too conventionally romantic to be credible, but in later life he stuck firmly to his story . . . . In several of his novels, too, he depicted some of the same scenes with an accuracy that bespeaks personal knowledge" (Stevenson 17).

Roland narrates a Lever-like adventure with the buffalo on the Prairies for the benefit of the Kennyfeck sisters as the party cross Essex Bridge and wander towards the Park in Dublin, where they thread grassy paths that lead to an "open expanse of plain, with its bold back-ground of blue mountains" (67):

“Does this convey any idea of a prairie, Mr. Cashel?” said Miss Kennyfeck, as they emerged from a grove of beech-trees, and came upon the wide and stretching plain, so well known to Dubliners as the Fifteen Acres, but which is, in reality, much greater in extent. “I have always fancied this great grassy expanse must be like a prairie.”

“About as like as yonder cattle to a herd of wild buffaloes,” replied Roland, smiling.

“Then what is a prairie like? Do tell us,” said Olivia, eagerly.

“I can scarcely do so, nor, if I were a painter, do I suppose that I could make a picture of one, because it is less the presence than the total absence of all features of landscape that constitutes the wild and lonely solitude of a prairie. But fancy a great plain — gently — very gently undulating, — not a tree, not a shrub, not a stream to break the dreary uniformity; sometimes, but even that rarely, a little muddy pond of rain-water, stagnant and yellow, is met with, but only seen soon after heavy showers, for the hot sun rapidly absorbs it. The only vegetation a short yellowed burnt-up grass, — not a wild flower or a daisy, if you travelled hundreds of hundreds of miles. On you go, days and days, but the scene never changes. Large cloud shadows rest upon the barren expanse, and move slowly and sluggishly away, or sometimes a sharp and pelting shower is borne along, traversing hundreds of miles in its course; but these are the only traits of motion in the death-like stillness. At last, perhaps after weeks of wandering, you descry, a long way off, some dark objects dotting the surface, — these are buffaloes; or at sunset, when the thin atmosphere makes everything sharp and distinct, some black spectral shapes seem to glide between you and the red twilight, — these are Indian hunters, seen miles off, and by some strange law of nature they are presented to the vision when far, far beyond the range of sight. Such strange apparitions, the consequence of refraction, have led to the most absurd superstitions; and all the stories the Germans tell you of their wild huntsmen are nothing to the tales every trapper can recount of war parties seen in the air, and tribes of red men in pursuit of deer and buffaloes, through the clear sky of an autumn evening.” [pp. 67-68]

The phrase "if I were a painter" seems to be Lever's cue to his illustrator to provide a pictorial flashback of Roland's adventure among the indigenous peoples of the Canadian Prairies, whom Olivia Kennyfeck terms "these wild children of the desert," and whom Roland designates "Camanches" of the Rocky Mountains, although no such Canadian tribe ever existed, and the tribal name suggests the "Comanche" of the American Southern Great Plains. Thus, the description of a buffalo stampede which the hero miraculously survives smacks of a tall tale.

Roland's "solitary ramble" to escape a campfire "dispute waxing warm" (69) leads him unwittingly into an earthquake or avalanche of huge beasts, a scene ready-made for Lever's gifted illustrator. Phiz uses the scene of "dark-backed monsters, roaring in terrible uproar" (70) as the basis for one of his most effective dark plates, positioned exactly facing the textual passage in which Roland recalls "the terrors of that dreadful night" (70). Thus, the illustrator applies highlights to the traveller's face and his mount so that pair stand out amidst the darkness of the Prairie sky and the seething mass of stampeding wild cattle, somewhat imaginatively but cartoonishly realised as an "infuriate herd," thundering and bellowing around the narrator as he spurs his horse lest they be trampled. The description of Roland's psychologically withstanding the terror of "the appalling gloom of night" and as he struggles to keep pace with the "vast moving mass" affords Phiz's engraver's needle a truly breath-taking letterpress.

Commentary: The Finest Dark Plates of Roland Cashel

The dark plate technique, first used in 1847, is applied to all the plates in Lever's Roland Cashel (1848-49), which is thus unique among the full-length novels that Browne illustrated. In some of the etchings the only function of the technique is to produce an even tint, softening the general tone; in others, the grayish background helps to set off the foreground subject (for example, Bravo Toro!); and in several, a basically dark tone plays against grays of varying shades and white highlights. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these latter is A Prairie—Evening Ride (Illus. 121), a horizontal plate in which a horde of stampeding bison emerge from gray skies and form an almost abstract pattern of black bodies and white eyes around the protagonist on his struggling white horse. Browne displays his compositional abilities in A Meeting under the Greenwood Tree (Illus. 122), where trunks and foliage form a design around the human figures. The artist varied the texture with great effectiveness by using several kinds of roulette. In some of the interior scenes, the mechanical tint adds a degree of depth uncharacteristic of most such subjects among Phiz's work, and at least some reviewers were impressed: Chapman and Hall's catalogue for November 1849 quotes the Edinburgh News on the topic of Roland Cashel to the effect that "the illustrations by Phiz are the finest we have ever seen anywhere, combining, in a new and noble style, line with etching, thus producing all the mellowness of mezzotint in the happiest manner." The dark plate is, indeed, a kind of shortcut to mezzotint effects, whereby the laborious pretreatment of the steel with a "rocker" is bypassed. The inclusion of such a quotation in advertising suggests that the publishers were well aware of the part played by Browne's illustrations in the sale of Lever's novels. [Steig, pp. 307-308]

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.]


Lever, Charles. Roland Cashel. With 39 illustrations and engraved title-vignette by Phiz. London: Chapman & Hall, 1850.

Lever, Charles. Roland Cashel. With 39 illustrations and engraved title-vignette by Phiz. London: Chapman & Hall, 1850.

Lever, Charles. Roland Cashel. Illustrated by Phiz [Hablot Knight Browne]. Novels and Romances of Charles Lever. Vols. I and II. In two volumes. Boston: Little, Brown, 1907. Project Gutenberg. Last Updated: 19 August 2010.

Steig, Michael. Chapter VII, "Phiz the Illustrator: An Overview and a Summing Up." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 299-316.

Stevenson, Lionel. Chapter II, "The Wandering Scholar, 1827-1830." Dr. Quicksilver: The Life of Charles Lever. London: Chapman and Hall, 1939. Pp. 16-36

Created 19 November 2002

Last modified 13 December 2022