"My baby! My blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed baby!" [Page 82] by Charles Stanley Reinhart (1875), in Charles Dickens's The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Harper & Bros. New York Household Edition, for Chapter XV. 9.3 x 13.4 cm (3 ¾ by 5 ¼ inches), framed. Running head: "A Public Man Outraged" (81). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Passage Illustrated: Mrs. Kenwigs' histrionics continue

In short, the opinion of the company was so clearly manifested, that Mr. Kenwigs was on the point of repairing to Mr. Noggs’s room, to demand an explanation, and had indeed swallowed a preparatory glass of punch, with great inflexibility and steadiness of purpose, when the attention of all present was diverted by a new and terrible surprise.

This was nothing less than the sudden pouring forth of a rapid succession of the shrillest and most piercing screams, from an upper story; and to all appearance from the very two-pair back, in which the infant Kenwigs was at that moment enshrined. They were no sooner audible, than Mrs. Kenwigs, opining that a strange cat had come in, and sucked the baby’s breath while the girl was asleep, made for  the door, wringing her hands, and shrieking dismally; to the great consternation and confusion of the company.

"Mr. Kenwigs, see what it is; make haste!" cried the sister, laying violent hands upon Mrs. Kenwigs, and holding her back by force. "Oh don’t twist about so, dear, or I can never hold you."

"My baby, my blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed baby!" screamed Mrs. Kenwigs, making every blessed louder than the last. "My own darling, sweet, innocent Lillyvick — Oh let me go to him. Let me go-o-o-o!"

Pending the utterance of these frantic cries, and the wails and lamentations of the four little girls, Mr. Kenwigs rushed upstairs to the room whence the sounds proceeded; at the door of which, he encountered Nicholas, with the child in his arms, who darted out with such violence, that the anxious father was thrown down six stairs, and alighted on the nearest landing-place, before he had found time to open his mouth to ask what was the matter.

"Don’t be alarmed," cried Nicholas, running down; "here it is; it’s all out, it’s all over; pray compose yourselves; there’s no harm done;" and with these, and a thousand other assurances, he delivered the baby (whom, in his hurry, he had carried upside down), to Mrs. Kenwigs, and ran back to assist Mr. Kenwigs, who was rubbing his head very hard, and looking much bewildered by his tumble. [Chapter XV, "Acquaints the Reader with the Cause and Origin of the Interruption described in the last Chapter, and with some other Matters necessary to be known," 82]

Commentary: Domestic Farce in London after the Yorkshire Melodrama

Nicholas Engaged as Tutor in a Private Family (August 1838), in which Phiz depicts Nicholas under the alias "Johnson" as the prospective tutor to the children of a social-climbing London bourgeois couple.

Returned from Yorkshire to London, Nicholas casts about him for a suitable situation, turning down the ignominious position of secretary to Member of Parliament Mr. Gregsbury. However, he agrees to act as private French tutor the daughters of Newman Nogg's neighbours, the Kenwigses, for the sum of five shillings per week. He assumes the name of 'Johnson'.

Nicholas meets the Kenwigs family, including Lillyvick, through their mutual acquaintance, Newman Noggs, the Kenwigses' upstairs neighbour who lives in the garrett of their five-storey building, on the top-most floor. They are having to rent a suite of rooms rather than their own home because they are financially on Lillyvick, Susan Kenwigs's wealthy uncle. Because they are determined to retain his favour and inherit his estate, the Kenwigs are constantly ingratiating themselves with him. Consequently they have given their baby the improbable Christian name "Lillyvick." In eight years of marriage, the couple have already had five children; the eldest, Morleena, being an awkward seven-year-old.

In the 1867 Diamond Edition Sol Eytinge. Jr., makes the rate-collector a dominating and substantial presence in the family portrait: The Kenwigs Family and Mr. Lillyvick (for Chapter 52).

In the American edition, Reinhart realizes the serio-comic moment in which the egocentric  and self-deluded Susan Kenwigs reiterates her odd conviction that her offspring are in constant danger of annihilation by an unfriendly universe, and will all die in childhood. Behind this apprehension lies the high infant and child mortality rates then prevalent among the working classes in Britain's urban slums. The minute that Mrs. Kenwigs raises this peculiar complaint, the terrified children begin to cry, sure that some terrible fate is shortly going to overtake them. The picture, then, constitutes a further disruption of the conviviality of the anniversary supper and card-game hosted by the middle-class Kenwigs on the first floor of the somewhat run-down house in Golden Square. Reinhart has represented the distraught mother as fashionably dressed,in juvenile Regency fashion skirts and white trousers. As Kenwigs actually practices a skilled trade as an ivory-turner, he can afford the best apartments in the building, a suite of rooms on the first floor, in which from time time he and his wife entertain her rich uncle in hopes of being left something substantial in his will.

Relevant illustrations from Other Editions (1838, 1875)

Left: The 1875 British Household Edition version of the same by Fred Barnard is similarly exploiting the farcical material Dickens has provided: "I can — not help it, and it don’t signify," sobbed Mrs. Kenwigs; "oh! they’re too beautiful to live, much too beautiful!". Right: Harry Furniss's version of the Kenwigses: Nicholas as the tutor to the little Kenwigses (Charles Dickens Library Edition, 1910).

Related material by other illustrators (1838 through 1910)

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.]


Barnard, J. "Fred" (il.). Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby, with fifty-nine illustrations. The Works of Charles Dickens: The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1875. Volume 15. Rpt. 1890.

Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. With fifty-two illustrations by C. S. Reinhart. The Household Edition. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1875.

__________. "Nicholas Nickleby." Scenes and Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens, being eight hundred and sixty-six drawings by Fred Barnard et al.. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1908.

Created 14 April 2021