Hydropathic Patients by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), initial serial illustration for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, Part 1 (July 1857), Chapter I, "Hydropathic Acquaintances," facing page 5. Steel-plate etching, 4 by 6 ½ inches (10 cm high by 16.7 cm wide), vignetted. In a scene slightly predating the outbreak of the Crimean War (1854), Phiz offers an interpretation of the level of society that financial wizard Davenport has joined by illustrating the opening scene on the patio of a hydropathic centre on the shores of Lake Como. After a fashionably dressed English peer, a surviving member of the smart set that had attended the Prince Regent decades earlier, and a wealthy Irish bourgeois exchange pleasantries about the beautiful natural situation of Italy's Lake Como and news of fellow Britons abroad in Italy and Switzerland, we learn that both Viscount Lord Lackington and another society traveller, Adderley Twining, have made appointments with financial wizard Davenport Dunn here at the lakeside villa.

Scanned image by Simon Cooke; colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary 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.] Click on the image to enlarge it.

Passage Illustrated: A Chance Meeting in Como and a Fashionable Panacea

"Ah! the fair syren sisters! what a charming vision!" said his Lordship, as two bright-cheeked, laughing-eyed girls bounced upon the terrace in all the high-hearted enjoyment of good health and good spirits.

"Molly, for shame!" cried what seemed the elder, a damsel of about nineteen, as the younger, holding out her dress with both hands, performed a kind of minuet curtsey to the Viscount, to which he responded with a bow that might have done credit to Versailles.

"Perfectly done — grace and elegance itself. The foot a little — a very little more in advance."

"Just because you want to look at it," cried she, laughing. "Molly, Molly!" exclaimed the other, rebukingly. "Let him deny it if he can, Lucy," retorted she. "But here's papa."

And as she spoke, a square-built, short, florid man, fanning his bald head with a straw hat, puffed his way forward.

"My Lord, I'm your most obaydient!" said he, with a very unmistakably Irish enunciation. "O'Reilly, I'm delighted to see you. These charming girls of yours have just put me in good humour with the whole creation. What a lovely spot this is; how beautiful!"

Though his Lordship's arm and outstretched hand directed attention to the scenery, his eyes never wandered from the pretty features of the laughing girl beside him. [Chapter I, "Hydropathic Acquaintances," pp. 4-5]

Commentary: The Water-Cure and The Villa D'Este

Phiz has organised the composition around the dashing, fashionably dressed figure of Lord Lackington as he greets the "fair syren sisters" (right of centre) on the terrace of the Villa D'Este, which the artist merely suggests by the balustrade and pillar to the left. Behind the English peer to the left-hand margin Spicer, "swathed in great-coat, cap, and worsted wrappers" (5) rushes across the plateau, and immediately behind him Madame la Marquise, "a little, very fat old lady" (5) completes the exercise regimen of brisk walking that was one of the chief features of hydropathy practitioner Vincent Preissnitz's now well-established water-cure. Lever's version of hydropathy in this initial chapter of the novel reflects the simplistic nature of hydropathy, since a significant part of the "treatment" was simply having the patient take up a simple lifestyle, which included eating only very coarse food, drinking large quantities of water, and engaging in plenty of mild exercise, particularly walking.

This and subsequent illustrations of the hydropathy centre on Lake Como suggest that Phiz may have seen Samuel Palmer's 1837 water-colour of the setting, the Villa D'Este, at Cernobbio, Italy, and quite likely knew Palmer's illustration of the villa as it appears in the 1846 edition of Charles Dickens's Pictures from Italy. Dickens's illustrator for the Italian travelogue, Palmer, had visited the Villa D'Este, a palatial Renaissance building, in 1838, and had done a number of water-colours of the Villa's extensive grounds. Whereas earlier visitors had commented upon the statuary and waterworks of the Italianate gardens which Phiz suggests here through the nyad statue, Palmer thoroughly enjoyed the avenue of trees, seen in the Reader's Passport in Dickens's travel-book. Palmer's paintings of the Villa's poetic landscape met with the unalloyed approval of art critic John Ruskin, who commended Palmer's work in the third edition of Modern Painters. In March 1846, at the recommendation of the art dealers and print publishers Colnaghi's, Dickens had approached Palmer with a hurried commission to supply a handful of vignette illustrations for his forthcoming book Pictures from Italy, a series of wood-engravings that Phiz would almost certainly have admired. The hydropathy centre Nuova Villa d'Este became a deluxe hotel catering to European nobility and wealthy American and British bourgeoisie in 1873, but during the period in which Lever described it would have been associated in the minds of his older readers with Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of Britain's George IV, for she had taken up residence there after the fall of Napoleon in 1815, returning to Great Britain shortly before her death in 1821.

Phiz has quite incorrectly inserted an Italian volcano, either Aetna or Vesuvius, and (perhaps for the sake of making the design more compact) has merely sketched in behind Lackington the wheelchair carrying a noble invalid whom Lackington addresses as "Your Excellency":

A chair, with a mass of horse-clothing and furs, surmounted by a little yellow wizened face, was next borne by, to which Lord Lackington bowed courteously, saying, "Your Excellency improves at every hour."

His Excellency gave a brief nod and a little faint smile, swallowed a mouthful from a silver flask presented by his servant, and disappeared. [5]

Another significant figure whom Phiz has included towards the right is the girls' father, O'Reilly: "a square-built, short, florid man." However, instead of "fanning his bald head with a straw hat," Phiz has him mopping his brow with a large silk handkerchief. Phiz has also included the tall, thin man whom Lackington next addresses, Adderley Twining, to conclude the introduction of society figures that Lever has effected. Clearly, however, Phiz displays the greatest interest in the adolescent sisters, whom he nevertheless fails to distinguish, and who resemble many of his other young women, from Ruth Pinch in Martin Chuzzlewit, Dora Spenlow in David Copperfield, and Little Dorrit, to Lucie Manette in A Tale of Two Cities.

Davenport Dunn, remarks Lackington to Twining, will find it worth his while to have travelled the thousand miles between London and Lake Como. Twining (actually the husband of Lady Lackington's best friend, Lady Grace, as we learn in the next chapter), asserts that he has small means at his disposal, and is having to scrimp, although Lackington knows that Twining is a borgeois of considerable wealth. Twining admits that he, too, has come to the Villa D'Este with "a little affair also to transact — a mere trifle, a nothing in fact" (10). The lawyer whom he has engaged to meet turns out to be the same as the subject of Lackington's appointment, for the "man of business" is Davenport Dunn himself: "clever fellow — wonderful fellow — up to everything — acquainted with everybody" (10). However, as Viscount Lackington adds parenthetically, Dunn is a businessman who "occupies a very distinguished position in Ireland" (rather than, he implies, in England, where such a position would be far more momentous).

Since Lever suggests Twining's duplicitous nature through his Jingle-like staccato speech (derived directly from Dickens's confidence man in The Posthumous Paspers of the Pickwick Club (1836-37), Phiz has had to find some way of signalling his deceitfulness in his images of this continuing character. His solution seems to have been to depict Twining as muffled and always in a hurry, so that, at least initially, readers do not have a clear sense of his facial expression.

Related Material


Browne, John Buchanan. Phiz! Illustrator of Dickens' World. New York: Charles Scribner's, 1978.

Fitzpatrick, W. J. The Life of Charles Lever. London: Downey, 1901.

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

Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1859.

Stevenson, Lionel. Dr. Quicksilver: The Life of Charles Lever. New York: Russell & Russell, 1939, rpt. 1969.

Sutherland, John. "Davenport Dunn." The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford U. P., 1989. Page 172.

Last modified 6 July 2019