Mr. Ricketts proposes a little walk by moonlight — twentieth illustration engraved by the Dalziels for the 1852 Chapman and Hall edition of The Daltons, or, Three Roads in Life by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne). Chapter XXXII, "An Invasion" (facing 269). 10 cm high by 16 cm wide, (4 inches by 6 ¼ inches), vignetted. This is the fifth vertically oriented plate in the two-volume novel. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: Yet another tedious drawing-room scene at the Villino Zoe

“What shall I do, Nina? Shall I go and speak to my Lady?” asked Kate.

A significant shrug of the shoulders, more negative than affirmative, was the only answer.

“I'd be a gossamer, and you'd be the King of Thebes,” said Mrs. Ricketts, addressing a tall footman, who stood ready to assist in carrying her.

“Yes, madam,” said he, respectfully.

“She's worse,” whispered Martha, gravely.

“And we'll walk on the wall of China by moonlight, with Cleopatra and Mr. Cobden?”

“Certainly, madam,” said the man, who felt the question too direct for evasion.

“Has she been working slippers for the planet Ju-Ju-Jupiter yet?” asked Purvis, eagerly, as he entered the room, heated, and flushed from the weight of a portentous bag of colored wool.

“No; not yet,” whispered Martha. “You may lift her now, gently very gently, and not a word.”

And in strict obedience, the servants raised their fair burden, and bore her from the room, after Nina, who led the way with an air that betokened a more than common indifference to human suffering. [Chapter XXXII, "An Invasion," 269]

Commentary: Phiz's Drawing-room Farce with Funny Man Scroope Purvis

Fortunately with so few female principals in Lever's story, the reader generally has little trouble distinguishing them. The situation in Lady Hester's Florentine palace when Zoe Ricketts pays a call is somewhat challenging, however, because Lever has brought so many of them together in a single scene. Phiz uses their juxtapositions and clothing to enable the reader to sort out their identities. We must distinguish her French maid, Nina, from Kate Dalton herself, and Miss Martha Ricketts from Mrs. Montague Ricketts, who seems a little the worse for wear as the servants prepare to carry her out of the drawing-room and to Kate's suite. The identification of Zoe's unmarried sister, Martha Ricketts, who has accompanied her by carriage, is straightforward as Zoe is prostrate on the couch and Martha is ministering to her, as Kate Dalton watches apprehensively, right of centre. The "Comic Man" in the farce, Zoe's brother Scroope Purvis, whose remarks and behaviour provide plenty of comic relief, is draining a glass of the vintage Marco-brunner, far right, that he has ordered as a restorative for his histrionic sister.

The scene in which Mrs. Montague Ricketts arrives at Lady Hester's "palace" to deliver Peter Dalton's letter to Kate quickly deteriorates into farce: "The ceremonial of introduction over, and Mrs. Ricketts being at last seated — a very tedious operation, in which the arrangement of cushions, pillows, and footstools played a conspicuous par" (264) with stuttering her brother, Scroope Purvis, and her highly attentive sister Martha. The scene which Phiz realizes is that in which Zoe collapses into semi-delirium as a result of Purvis's poodle Fidele knocking over a valuable vase: "Here a tremendous crash, followed by a terrific yelping noise, broke in upon the colloquy; for it was Fidele had thrown down a Sevres jar, and lay, half-buried and howling, under the ruins. There was, of course, a general rising of the company, some to rescue the struggling poodle, and others in vain solicitude to gather up the broken fragments of the once beautiful vase" (267). Knocking over stools and sprawling on the chesterfield, she creates a distraction as Scroope attempts to scoop up the broken pieces of the vase which Martha will glue back together:

“I am getting ill I shall faint,” said Mrs. Ricketts, retiring upon a well-cushioned sofa from the calamity.

Martha now flew to the bell-rope and pulled it violently, while Purvis threw open the window, and with such rash haste as to upset a stand of camellias, thereby scattering plants, buds, earth, and crockery over the floor, while poor Kate, thunderstruck at the avalanche of ruin around her, leaned against the wall for support, unable to stir or even speak. As Martha continued to tug away at the bell, the alarm, suggesting the idea of fire, brought three or four servants to the door together. [267]

The wine soon made its appearance; a very imposing array of restoratives the ambulatory pharmacopeia of the Ricketts family was all displayed upon a table. Martha, divested of shawl, bonnet, and gloves, stood ready for action; and thus, everything being in readiness, Mrs. Ricketts, whose consideration never suffered her to take people unawares, now began her nervous attack in all form. [268]

Phiz denotes the moment realised by the central presence of Lady Hester's uniformed footman in powdered wig, "a tall footman, who stood ready to assist in carrying her" (269), and who maiuntains a dignified compsure despite the unfolding farce.

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.]


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Downey, Edmund. Charles Lever: His Life in Letters. 2 vols. london; William Blackwood, 1906.

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

Lever, Charles. The Daltons, or, Three Roads in Life. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1852, rpt. 1872.

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Last modified 6 May 2022