A Parley with the Card-sharpers by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 ½ x 4 ½ inches (9 cm by 11.2 cm). — Chapter 42, The Old Curiosity Shop. [For passage illustrated see below.] Date of original serial publication of Part 24: 17 October 1840 in Master Humphrey's Clock, Part 27, Vol. 2: 27.

Context of the Illustration: At the Gypsy Encampment

There were no women or children, as she had seen in other gipsy camps they had passed in their wayfaring, and but one gipsy — a tall athletic man, who stood with his arms folded, leaning against a tree at a little distance off, looking now at the fire, and now, under his black eyelashes, at three other men who were there, with a watchful but half-concealed interest in their conversation. Of these, her grandfather was one; the others she recognised as the first card-players at the public-house on the eventful night of the storm — the man whom they had called Isaac List, and his gruff companion. One of the low, arched gipsy-tents, common to that people, was pitched hard by, but it either was, or appeared to be, empty.

"Well, are you going?" said the stout man, looking up from the ground where he was lying at his ease, into her grandfather’s face. "You were in a mighty hurry a minute ago. Go, if you like. You’re your own master, I hope?"

"Don’t vex him," returned Isaac List, who was squatting like a frog on the other side of the fire, and had so screwed himself up that he seemed to be squinting all over; "he didn’t mean any offence."

"You keep me poor, and plunder me, and make a sport and jest of me besides," said the old man, turning from one to the other. "Ye’ll drive me mad among ye."

The utter irresolution and feebleness of the grey-haired child, contrasted with the keen and cunning looks of those in whose hands he was, smote upon the little listener’s heart. But she constrained herself to attend to all that passed, and to note each look and word. [Chapter XLII, 27]


When the Single Gentleman and Mrs. Nubbles make the overnight journey of seventy miles in a four-horse post-chaise to find the wayfarers in the west of England. Dickens explains how events conspired to drive the Trents away from their refuge with Mrs. Jarley. However, matters are far more complicated than either Kit or the Single Gentleman imagine. Here, encouraged by his fellow card-players from the Valiant Soldier Inn, Jowl and Isaac List, Grandfather Trent plans to pilfer Mrs. Jarley's cash-box in order to continue gambling.

When Green re-imagined this scene for the Household Edition thirty-five years later, he abandoned Phiz's caricatural style by which the earlier illustrator had made the gamblers Jowl and Isaac List (in the foreground) into grotesques. Adapting the style of the dark plate top the realistic composition, Green emphasizes the enveloping darkness to suggest Grandfather Trent's possible descent into criminality to feed his addition. Phiz continues the urban-rural contrast of the series by establishing the relationship between the centre of the country town, the distant church spire on the horizon, and the Gypsy encampment in the well-lit foreground. The lighting effects and distant spire are consistent with Dickens's cue that "the distant church-clock bell struck nine" (25). The small campfire casts the four figures into the highlights and shadows of chiaroscuro. In particular, Phiz throws the adversaries of the dramatic moment into contrasting darkness (the gullible Trent, standing left) and light (the cunning, manipulative Gypsy, right). Standing in a casual pose, the apparently unconcerned owner of the encampment is actually directing his henchmen's temptation of Grandfather Trent to rob his employer. Phiz contrasts the beauty of the natural setting with the villainy of the debased types who have set up their temporary gambling-den there and exhort Grandfather Trent to steal the contents of Mrs. Jarley's cashbox which she keeps beneath her bed.

Scene for the Same Chapter in the Household Edition Volumes (1872, 1876)

Above: Thomas Worth's American Household Edition dark plate depicting Nell's overhearing her grandfather and the gamblers, "What shall I do to save him?" (1872).

Above: Charles Green's choice of scene for this chapter repeats that of Dickens and Phiz in the original serial, showing Grandfather Trent's continuing downward spiral, The old man stood helplessly among them for a little time (1876).

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.]


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.

Created 16 November 2007

Last modified 10 August 2020