Mysterious Installation of Mr. Pinch
March 1844, Part XV
13 cm high by 10.4 cm wide, vignetted
Illustration for Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit
[Click on image to enlarge it and mouse over text for links.]
Scanned image, 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.]
The original 1844 edition of Dickens's Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit placed Mysterious Installation of Mr. Pinch (the thirtieth monthly illustration of the novel) facing p. 460 in the thirty-ninth chapter. The 1867 and 1897 editions added the following descriptive headline: "Pleasant Party of Three."
Passage Illustrated: Setting the Chaotic Library to Rights
"Oh!" cried Mr. Fips, pulling on his glove, "didn’t I? No, by-the-bye, I don’t think I did. Ah! I dare say he’ll be here soon. You will get on very well together, I have no doubt. I wish you success I am sure. You won’t forget to shut the door? It’ll lock of itself if you slam it. Half-past nine, you know. Let us say from half-past nine to four, or half-past four, or thereabouts; one day, perhaps, a little earlier, another day, perhaps, a little later, according as you feel disposed, and as you arrange your work. Mr. Fips, Austin Friars of course you’ll remember? And you won’t forget to slam the door, if you please!"
He said all this in such a comfortable, easy manner, that Tom could only rub his hands, and nod his head, and smile in acquiescence which he was still doing, when Mr. Fips walked coolly out.
"Why, he’s gone!" cried Tom.
"And what’s more, Tom," said John Westlock, seating himself upon a pile of books, and looking up at his astonished friend, "he is evidently not coming back again; so here you are, installed. Under rather singular circumstances, Tom!" [Chapter XXXIX, "Containing some further Particulara of the Domestic Economy of the Pinches; with strange News from the City, narrowly concerning Tom," page 460 in the 1844 Edition]
Tom Pinch, The Chaotic Library, and Pecksniff's Comeuppance
Dickens and Phiz imply through this topsy-turvey room full of awkwardly balanced piles of books that Tom's project of setting the ruinous library to rights may be analogous to the challenge that author and illustrator have set serial readers, who must constantly assess the motives and movements of the large cast of characters, and try to see coherence in the apparently divergent plot-lines in the lengthy part-publication. Since this plot development occurs in the fifteenth instalment, Dickens now has only a quarter of the novel remaining in which to resolve the multiple plots, including the fates of Tom and Ruth Pinch. Just as Tom Pinch must tame and organize the jumbled mass of texts, so the reader must discipline the loose, baggy monster (to borrow Henry James's description) of the Victorian picaresque novel into a meaningful shape. Tom Pinch, who as an organist in the frontispiece (upon which Phiz would shortly begin working) signifies any artist, receives this commission from a mysterious benefactor through an elderly City attorney, Mr. Fips (whom we glimpse passing out of the door in Mysterious Installation of Mr. Pinch). The Herculean task of disciplining the private collection and transforming it into a library will involve the imposition of order; the task will require Tom to produce a catalogue so that others — in particular, his anonymous benefactor — may access the knowledge contained in the ramshackle collection.
In the frontispiece, which he completed several months later, Phiz describes the visionary function of the artist; however, in the present illustration he focuses upon the role of the artist as organizer and selector. In a series of plates with details providing visual continuity Phiz graphs Tom's progress as a librarian. The j ob comes fortuitously to the unemployed Tom since the unknown employer provides Tom with the remuneration that he requires to set up housekeeping with his sister Ruth, a discharged governess. We first see the room in total chaos in which the books form a precarious, Babel-tower on the table just left of centre in the March 1844 illustration. Phiz will repeat the key elements of the room — the portrait of a lady (left), the bookshelf (centre), the padded chairs (left and right), and the vase on the small table (extreme right) — so that the reader can assess Tom's progress in imposing order on the dusty rooms, and filling their barren shelves over a period of six months. Phiz employs several significant emblems in this initial plate, including the cobweb (indicative of neglect and disuse over time, and seen previously in Phiz's series), the candlestick and snuffer (signifying an absence of light, and therefore of reason), and the stopped clock, suggesting that time has arrested in this room. Behind the lively figure of John Westlock we notice a desiccated stem, which implies an absence of vitality. If we are tempted to speculate about Old Martin's reasons for staging the chaos, including having some mysterious agent cause the books to be piled upon the table and strewn across the floor, we must regard Old Martin as the tester of Tom's moral fibre.
The Relevant Plate from The Household Edition (1872)
Above: Fred Barnard's Household Edition wood-engraving of Fips' giving Tom his assignment, "I can't say; it's impossible to tell. I really have no idea. But," said Fips, taking off a very deep impression of the wafer-stamp upon the calf of his left leg, and looking steadily at Tom, "I don't know that it's a matter of much consequence." (1872). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
The enigmatic Mr. Fips, an attorney from Austin Friars (acting on behalf of an anonymous benefactor — in fact, Martin Chuzzlewit, Senior) delivers the offer of a "dream job" to Tom: a generous weekly salary with modest hours for reorganizing a private library, presently in utter chaos. The resolution of the library coincides with the closure of the novel, in particular, the comeuppance of Pecksniff, the multiple marriages, and the suicide of Jonas Chuzzlewit.
Related Materials: Later Illustrations
- Illustrations by Sol Eytinge, Jr. (16 plates from the Ticknor and Fields' Diamond Edition of 1867)
- Fred Barnard (60 plates from the Chapman and Hall Household Edition of 1872)
- Clayton J. Clarke (five studies from three sources, 1910)
- Harry Furniss (twenty-eight lithographs for the Charles Dickens Library Edition, 1910)
Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1844.
Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1872.
Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Edited by Andrew Lang. Illustrated by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne). The Gadshill Edition: 34 volumes. London: Chapman and Hall; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1897. 2 vols.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U.P., 1978.
Last modified 27 April 2019