Quilp leering at the brasses by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 ½ x 4 ½ inches (9 x 11.6 cm) vignetted. — Part Eighteen, Chapter 33, The Old Curiosity Shop. [For passage illustrated see below.] Date of original serial publication: 5 September 1840. Master Humphrey's Clock, Part 21, 280.

Context of the Illustration: Quilp instals Dick Swiveller at the Brasses'

Right: Harry Furniss's study of the novel's malignant trio, Quilp looks into the Attorney's Parlour, Ch. 34 (1910).

While they were thus employed, the window was suddenly darkened, as by some person standing close against it. As Mr. Brass and Miss Sally looked up to ascertain the cause, the top sash was nimbly lowered from without, and Quilp thrust in his head.

"Hallo!" he said, standing on tip-toe on the window-sill, and looking down into the room. "Is there anybody at home? Is there any of the Devil’s ware here? Is Brass at a premium, eh?"

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the lawyer in an affected ecstasy. "Oh, very good, Sir! Oh, very good indeed! Quite eccentric! Dear me, what humour he has!"

"Is that my Sally?" croaked the dwarf, ogling the fair Miss Brass. "Is it Justice with the bandage off her eyes, and without the sword and scales? Is it the Strong Arm of the Law? Is it the Virgin of Bevis?"

"What an amazing flow of spirits!" cried Brass. "Upon my word, it’s quite extraordinary!"

"Open the door," said Quilp, "I’ve got him here. Such a clerk for you, Brass, such a prize, such an ace of trumps. Be quick and open the door, or if there’s another lawyer near and he should happen to look out of window, he’ll snap him up before your eyes, he will." [Chapter XXXIII, 327-28]

Commentary: Meanwhile, Back in London

Phiz facilitates the readers' translation back to the other scene of the action, the streets, houses, and offices of a less reputable side of the metropolis whose presiding deity is Daniel Quilp. Phiz realizes the scene that Dickens describes preparatory to the reintroduction of the rhetorical dwarf and the initial appearance of another major character, Sally Brass:

in this parlour window in the days of its occupation by Sampson Brass,  there hung, all awry and slack, and discoloured by the sun, a curtain of faded green, so threadbare from long service as by no means to intercept the view of the little dark  room, but rather to afford a favourable medium through which to observe it accurately.  There was not much to look at. A rickety table, with spare bundles of papers, yellow and  ragged from long carriage in the pocket, ostentatiously displayed upon its top; a couple  of stools set face to face on opposite sides of this crazy piece of furniture; a treacherous old chair by the fire-place, whose withered arms had hugged full many a client and helped to squeeze him dry; a second-hand wig box, used as a depository for blank writs and declarations and other small forms of law, once the sole contents of the head which belonged to the wig which belonged to the box, as they were now of the box itself; two or three common books of practice; a jar of ink, a pounce box, a stunted hearth-broom, a carpet trodden to shreds but still clinging with the tightness of desperation to its tacks —these, with the yellow wainscot of the walls, the smoke-discoloured ceiling, the dust and cobwebs, were among the most prominent decorations of the office of Mr. Sampson Brass. [Chapter XXXIII, 328]

In this introductory paragraph for the chapter Dickens sets the scene at Bevis Marks for his intrepid aeronauts whom he has just transported to London from the country town where Mrs. Jarley has set up her waxworks exhibition — and where, in the night, Grandfather Trent has stolen into her room at the inn and robbed his own grandchild. Phiz has not merely utilized Dickens's description in every particular; he has introduced Quilp at the window, framing him as he completes arrangements to place his own agent, Dick Swiveller, in the Brasses' establishment. The realia of a law-office translated to a parlour suggest the slightly shady nature of Sampson Brass's legal practice. The Brasses' few legal tomes (rear right) hardly constitute a law library.

Dickens and Phiz now introduce ugly, scheming, and quite ruthless sister, who seems far more adept at the law than her brother, Sally: "a kind of Amazon at common law" who excels at padding her brother's billings to his clients. By the time that the reader arrives at the chapter's tailpiece, which shows the Brasses completing writs at the table and Quilp occupying the window on the street side of the house, Dickens has already introduced Dick, had Sampson depart with Quilp, and seated the uncomfortable clerk opposite the composed Miss Sally, so that the illustration would seem to be more appropriate as a headpiece.

Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s Diamond Edition Illustration for the Same Chapter

Eytinge's dual character study, Sampson and Sally Brass (1867).

The Household Edition Illustrations for the Same Chapter

Worth seems have based this illustration on Phiz's (minus Quilp's appearance at the window): "What do you taunt me about going to keep a clerk for?" (1872).

Green's illustration moves to a later part of the chapter when Dick, installed opposite Sally and copying a legal document, flirts with the notion of swatting her with the ruler and knocking off her head-dress, In some of these flourishes it went close to Miss Sally's head (1876).

Related Resources

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 Dickens Souvenir Book. Illustrated by Fred Barnard and Others. London: Chapman and Hall, 1912.

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, 1841. Rpt., 1849 by Bradbury and Evans (3 vols. in 2).

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Thomas Worth. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1872. VI.

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Charles Green. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876. XII.

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book, 1910. V.

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

Kitton, Frederic George. "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne), a Memoir, Including a Selection From His Correspondence and Notes on His Principal Works. London, George Redway, 1882.

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

Matz, B. W., and Kate Perugini. Character Sketches from Dickens. Illustrated by Harold Copping. London: Raphael Tuck, 1924.

Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U.P., 1978.

Stevens, Joan. "'Woodcuts Dropped into the Text': The Illustrations in The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge." Studies in Bibliography. 20 (1967): 113-34.

Created 5 July 2002

Last modified 10 August 2020