I begin life on my own account, and don't like it. 1872. Eleventh illustration by Fred Barnard (engraved by the Dalziels) for the Household Edition of David Copperfield (Chapter XI, "I Begin Life on My Own Account, and Don't Like It," p. 65). 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.]

Fred Barnard's Depiction of the Bottling Factory; or, What Barnard Knew from reading Forster's Life that Hablot Knight Browne didn't.

In the first volume of The Life of Charles Dickens, published in the same year as the Household Edition of David Copperfield, 1872, John Forster revealed in chapter 2, "Hard Experiences in Boyhood. 1822-1824," that the Murdstone and Grinby warehouse episode in the mid-century novel was but thinly disguised autobiography, and had originally been composed in the spring of 1847:

the poor little lad, with good ability and a most sensitive nature, turned at the age of ten into a 'labouring hind' . . . and conscious already of what made it seem very strange to him that he could so easily have been thrown away at such an age, was indeed himself. [15]

According to biographer Forster, Dickens soon afterward abandoned the notion of writing his autobiography in favour of David Copperfield.

Those warehouse experiences fell then so aptly into the subject he had chosen, that he could not resist the temptation of immediately using them; and the manuscript recording them, which was but the first portion of what he had designed to write, was embodied in the substance of the eleventh and earlier chapters of his novel. [15-16]

How much or how little, one wonders, did Phiz know about this autobiographical connection? Jane Rabb Cohen's exhaustive study of Dickens and his original illustrators unequivocally asserts that "Dickens never took Browne into his confidence, but the illustrations to this text are nevertheless unusually sensitive" (100) — as if Dickens communicated to his illustrator the sense that this was to be "his favourite child." Not until the publication of the first volume of Forster's biography in 1872 did the general public know of this real-life connection between David Copperfield and his creator. For the Household Edition of the 1870s, Frederick Barnard (1846-1896) attempted to outdo the "graphic reinforcement" (Cohen, 101) designed by his friend, the venerable Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"), in collaboration with the novelist himself. Again, Cohen insists that Dickens did not take Phiz into his full confidence regarding the highly personal origins of one of the book's most painful events, the warehouse:

Browne, though not personally acquainted with the autobiographical realities dominating Dickens's imagination, was nevertheless able to satisfy him. The author's greater realism, looser structure, simpler style, and mellow tone, appropriate to a Bildungsroman, permitted a wider range of character and emotion that the objective content and the moral themes of Chuzzlewit and Dombey. [100-101]

In several respects, however, Barnard in 1872 had several distinct advantages over Phiz in 1849. For example, while still a boy, Barnard had read the novels in their entirety rather than in the spoonfuls of serial instalment with which Phiz had to cope, and therefore from the very beginning had complete knowledge of their plots and characters long before he received the commission to illustrate selected titles in the Household Edition. Then, too, he had probably been reading the first of the three volumes of Forster's Life of Charles Dickens, published in 1872, when working on the sixty-one David Copperfield illustrations, and therefore was aware of the biographical connections between the writer and the creatures and situations of his imagination. Moreover, despite his inability to access the author's guidance on the composition of his visualisations as Phiz had done, Barnard was able to consult Phiz about the artistic collaboration with Dickens some twenty years before.

Such was the case with that most autobiographical of Dickens's major works, The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observations of David Copperfield the Younger, of Blunderstone Rookery (which he never meant to be published on any account) (May 1849 — November 1850), and in particular his rendering of the scene in the bottling factory at Blackfriar's upriver, which is, after all, Warren's Blacking Factory, Hungerford Stairs, the Strand, thinly disguised and adapted to the Bildungsroman of the young novelist who serves not merely as Dickens's narrator and protagonist but also as Dickens's childhood alter ego in the service of Murdstone and Grinby, wine merchants, in chapters 11 through 12. Significantly, whereas Phiz did not select the bottling factory as a subject for illustration, preferring instead to realize "My magnificent order at the public house," Barnard elected to illustrate chapter 11 with "I begin life on my own account, and don't like it" (a dejected David, left; Mealy Potatoes, centre; and Mick Walker, right, distinguished by his paper cap, exactly as in the letterpress and in Dickens's "autobiographical fragment"; British Household Edition, p. 65, for the letterpress on p. 78). Barnard's using three illustrations, the second a full-page insert ("Mr. Micawber, impressing the names of streets and shapes of corner houses upon me as we went along, that I might find my way back easily in the morning," facing p. 78), suggests that the chapter especially stimulated his imagination and that he wished to impress this eleventh chapter upon the reader-viewer's memory. The American edition is even more effective in this regard since the three wood engravings are juxtaposed immediately against the letterpress they realize (page 69, facing page 70, and page 73).

By coincidence, as Peter Ackroyd notes, in 1849 Dickens's oldest son, Charley, was roughly the same age as his father had been when he laboured at Warren's and his own father, the spendthrift John Dickens, was rendered inaccessible to the impressionable boy by virtue of his father's having been incarcerated in the Marshalsea Prison for debt. Prior to writing David Copperfield, Dickens had recorded in an autobiographical fragment the whole sordid sequence of events, which he showed to Forster in January of 1849 and eventually incorporated into the new novel, transforming his father's imprisonment into the death of David's father; further, whereas young Charles was part of an extended family, his youthful protagonist is an orphan, and had been an only child, thereby enabling the novelist to intensify David's bewildering feelings of alienation and emotional isolation.

Note: Barnard's "twelfth illustration for David Copperfield appeared slightly differently in the British and American versions of the The Household Edition. In the British edition drops the illustration into the text of p. 65, Chapter XI, "I Begin Life on My Own Account, and Don't Like It," but the letterpress (text) illustrated occurs on p. 77.


Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1998.

Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.

Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield, with 61 illustrations by Fred Barnard. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1872. Vol. 3.

_______. David Copperfield, with 61 illustrations by Fred Barnard. Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1872.

Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens. London: Chapman and Hall, 1872. Vol. 1.

The copy of the Household Edition from which this picture was scanned was the gift of George Gorniak, Editor of The Dickens Magazine, whose subject for the fifth series, beginning in January 2010, is this novel.

Last modified 17 August 2016