The Grinder's Lot by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 1/8 by 4 ¼ inches (9.6 x 10.9 cm). — Part Eleven, Chapter 18, The Old Curiosity Shop. Date of original serial publication: 18 July 1840. Master Humphrey's Clock, no. 15, 185. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Context of the Illustration: The Puppeteers meet an Itinerant Troupe of Dancers

Right: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s study of the Punch Professor without Nell and her grandfather in the frame: Codlin and Short (1867).

They had stopped to rest beneath a finger-post where four roads met, and Mr. Codlin in his deep misanthropy had let down the drapery and seated himself in the bottom of the show, invisible to mortal eyes and disdainful of the company of his fellow creatures, when two monstrous shadows were seen stalking towards them from a turning in the road by which they had come. The child was at first quite terrified by the sight of these gaunt giants — for such they looked as they advanced with lofty strides beneath the shadow of the trees — but Short, telling her there was nothing to fear, blew a blast upon the trumpet, which was answered by a cheerful shout.

"It’s Grinder’s lot, an’t it?" cried Mr. Short in a loud key.

"Yes," replied a couple of shrill voices.

"Come on then," said Short. "Let’s have a look at you. I thought it was you."

Thus invited, "Grinder’s lot" approached with redoubled speed and soon came up with the little party.

Mr. Grinder’s company, familiarly termed a lot, consisted of a young gentleman and a young lady on stilts, and Mr. Grinder himself, who used his natural legs for pedestrian purposes and carried at his back a drum. The public costume of the young people was of the Highland kind, but the night being damp and cold, the young gentleman wore over his kilt a man’s pea jacket reaching to his ankles, and a glazed hat; the young lady too was muffled in an old cloth pelisse and had a handkerchief tied about her head. Their Scotch bonnets, ornamented with plumes of jet black feathers, Mr. Grinder carried on his instrument.

"Bound for the races, I see," said Mr. Grinder coming up out of breath. "So are we. How are you, Short?" With that they shook hands in a very friendly manner. The young people being too high up for the ordinary salutations, saluted Short after their own fashion. The young gentleman twisted up his right stilt and patted him on the shoulder, and the young lady rattled her tambourine. [Chapter XVII, 185-86]


Phiz elaborates upon the situation which Dickens describes: Nell, her grandfather, and the puppeteers have stopped to rest beneath a finger-post where four roads meet. "Mr. Codlin in his deep misanthropy had let down the drapery and seated himself in the bottom of the show, invisible to mortal eyes and disdainful of the company of his fellow creatures, when two monstrous shadows were seen stalking towards them from a turning in the road by which they had come" (185). The illustration seems to encompass the opening dialogue between the puppeteers and the dancers:

"Where’s your partner?" inquired Grinder.

"Here he is," cried Mr. Thomas Codlin, presenting his head and face in the proscenium of the stage, and exhibiting an expression of countenance not often seen there; "and he’ll see his partner boiled alive before he’ll go on to-night. That’s what he says." [Chapter XVII, 186]

Phiz depicts the late afternoon arrival at the crossroads of three itinerant performers without romance or flattery, choosing instead to render them as slightly grotesque, as agile but tawdry. They are somewhat cynical about their trade, which (unlike that of the Punch-and-Judy men) does not even offer the pretence of offering a moral or edifying experience. Nell will soon encounter a travelling entertainer who lays claim to a higher calling: Mrs. Jarley, the exhibitor of an "educational" travelling waxworks show. The Grinder's lot provide musical demonstrations of terpsichorean agility as Highland dancers, but make no pretense about being informative or edifying.

In this crowded composition, Phiz imposes a focus on Nell by having the dancer on stilts point one of his supports directly at her, diagonally across the page. Phiz complements the text by showing Nell in doubt as to whether hese strangers are trustworthy as she glances apprehensively at her grandfather. Phiz depicts Codlin, hiding in the Punch-and-Judy booth that he carries on his back, but which was not evident in the previous illustration (see below), when the pair were mending their puppets in the churchyard.

Dickens's strategy of having the wayfarers encounter so many itinerants associated with the entertainment industry offered his team of illustrators numerous opportunities for interesting caricatures of dancers, acrobats, puppeteers, and all those other hangers-on at such events as the horse-races in June. The pictures contrast again and again Nell's innocence and inexperience with those who constitute the fellowship of the road: "If Nell's progress takes her from the wilderness of the city across anormal landscape populated by curious characters - by Codlin and Trotters and their Punch and Judy figures, by Grinder with his "lot" travelling about on stilts, by Jerry and his dancing dogs, by retired giants (or stories about them) who wait upon dwarfs at meals-that same progress carries her later across a more phantasmagoric backdrop. There she passes factory cities where she felt 'a solitude which has no parallel but in the thirst of the shipwrecked mariner'” (413) (Home, 497).

Curiously, Grandfather Trent looks far less aged and imbecilic than previously as he regards the lively young dancers and their drummer, The Grinder. The illustrator may be suggesting that the countryside and freedom from urban cares (as well as from scenes of gambling addiction) are improving Grandfather Trent's physical and mental health. Phiz effectively contrasts characters of the jovial Short, centre, who seems to be enjoying the dance, and the sour Codlin, staring at the troupe with a suspicious expression from the cover of the Punch-and-Judy booth on the left margin. Phiz employs a subtle aerial perspective to sketch in the oaks in the backdrop.The trees' leafy canopy implies the season, and frames the dancers and the fiinger-post, against which the leader balances himself. In pointing the way to the metropolis, the sign-post subtly reminds readers of the urban plot threads involving Quilp and his adherents, Kit Nubbles, and Dick Swiveller.

Relevant illustrations from the Serial (1840-41), and later editions

Above: Phiz's realisation of the the wayfarers' encountering the popular entertainers repairing their puppets in the churchyard, Punch in the Churchyard from Master Humphrey's Clock (11 July 1840).

Charles Green's less whimsical Household Edition illustration focuses on the casual nature of the puppeteers in Nelly, kneeling down beside the box, was soon busily engaged in her task (1876).

Left: Clayton J. Clarke's amusing caricatures of the Punch-and-Judy performers in the Player's Cigarette card series: Codlin (Card No. 25) and Short (Card No. 25), both dating from 1910. Right: Harry Furniss's realisation of the same scene in the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910).

Relevant Illustrations from the 1861 and 1888 editions by Darley

Related Resources Including Other Illustrated Editions

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.]

Bibliography: The Old Curiosity Shop (1841-1924)

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock. Illustrated by Phiz, George Cattermole, Samuel Williams, and Daniel Maclise. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1840.

Hall, Stephanie. "Punch & Judy in America: Lecture and Oral History with Mark Walker." Library of Congress. 5 November 2019. Web. 2 June 2020.

_______. "Puppets: A Story of Magical Actors." Folklife Today, March 16, 2018. Web. 2 June 2020.

Hammerton, J. A. "XIII. The Old Curiosity Shop." The Dickens Picture-Book. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910. 170-211.

Home, Lewis. "The Old Curiosity Shop and the Limits of Melodrama." Dalhousie Review, Vol. 72, No. 4 (1997): 494-507.

Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

Mayhew, Henry. "Punch's Showmen" and "Our Street Folk. 1. Street Exhibitions, Punch."  London Labour and the London Poor, Volume III. Griffen, Bohn, and Co., 1861 (volume III was part of the original 1851 set). [Available from Hathi Trust. See page 61 of the digital version for a discussion and script of Punch and Judy street puppetry.]

Steig, Michael. Chapter 3, "From Caricature to Progress: Master Humphrey's Clock and Martin Chuzzlewit." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. 51-85.

Stevens, Joan. "'Woodcuts Dropped into the Text': The Illustrations in The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge." Studies in Bibliography. 20 (1967), 113-134.

Vann, J. Don. "The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock, 25 April 1840-6 February 1841." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: MLA, 1985. 64-5.

Created 10 May 2020

Last modified 9 October 2020