"Wy, it's mean . . . . . that's where it is. It's mean!" — Fred Barnard's fifty-sixth illustration for Dickens's Dombey and Son, Household Edition (1877), half-page, p. 412 (scene from chap. lvii). Wood engraving by the Dalziels, 4 x 5 ½ inches (10.2 by 13.8 cm), framed. Running head: "Magnanimity of Mr. Toots," 409. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Passage Illustrated: The Game Chicken disapproves of Toots' Acquiescence

"Now, Master," said the Chicken, doggedly, when he, at length, caught Mr. Toots’s eye, "I want to know whether this here gammon is to finish it, or whether you’re a going in to win?"

"Chicken," returned Mr. Toots, "explain yourself."

"Why then, here’s all about it, Master," said the Chicken. "I ain’t a cove to chuck a word away. Here’s wot it is. Are any on ‘em to be doubled up?"

When the Chicken put this question he dropped his hat, made a dodge and a feint with his left hand, hit a supposed enemy a violent blow with his right, shook his head smartly, and recovered himself.

"Come, Master," said the Chicken. "Is it to be gammon or pluck? Which?"

"Chicken," returned Mr. Toots, "your expressions are coarse, and your meaning is obscure."

"Why, then, I tell you what, Master," said the Chicken. "This is where it is. It’s mean."

"What is mean, Chicken?" asked Mr. Toots.

"It is," said the Chicken, with a frightful corrugation of his broken nose. "There! Now, Master! Wot! When you could go and blow on this here match to the stiff’un;" by which depreciatory appellation it has been since supposed that the Game One intended to signify Mr. Dombey; "and when you could knock the winner and all the kit of ‘em dead out o’ wind and time, are you going to give in? To give in?" said the Chicken, with contemptuous emphasis. "Wy, it’s mean!"

"Chicken," said Mr Toots, severely, "you’re a perfect Vulture! Your sentiments are atrocious."

"My sentiments is Game and Fancy, Master," returned the Chicken. "That’s wot my sentiments is. I can’t abear a meanness. I’m afore the public, I’m to be heerd on at the bar of the Little Helephant, and no Gov’ner o’ mine mustn’t go and do what’s mean. Wy, it’s mean,’ said the Chicken, with increased expression. "That’s where it is. It’s mean." [Chapter 56, "Several People delighted, and the Game Chicken disgusted," 409-10]

Commentary: "the Apollo of Mr. Toots's Pantheon"

Phiz's only study of the Toots's boxing instructor: A  Visitor of Distinction (August 1847).

Dickens foils the story's sentimental strain with the Cockney, street-wise, no-nonsense attitude of the phlegmatic pugilist who calls himself "The Game Chicken." For thirty-two chapters he has barely tolerated his employer's defeatist attitude towards a possible romantic involvement with Florence throughout the story, but now enough is enough. Toots has employed the prize-fighter to train him in the manly art, and The Chicken has grudgingly obliged by "knocking Toots about the head three times a week for the small consideration of ten-and-six a visit" (Chapter 22, 161). Dickens describes The Chicken exactly as illustrators Phiz and Barnard have depicted him: "A stoical gentleman in a shaggy white great-coat and a flat-brimmed hat, with very short hair, a broken nose, and a considerable tract of bare and sterile country behind each ear."

Related Material including Other Illustrated Editions of Dombey and Son

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.]


Dickens, Charles. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Phiz. (Hablot K. Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1848.

_______. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). 8 coloured plates. London and Edinburgh: Caxton and Ballantyne, Hanson, 1910.

_______. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Fred Barnard [62 composite wood-block engravings]. The Works of Charles Dickens. The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877. XV.

"Dombey and Son — Sixty-two Illustrations by Fred Barnard." Scenes and Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens, Being Eight Hundred and Sixty-six Drawings by Fred Barnard, Gordon Thomson, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz), J. McL. Ralston, J. Mahoney, H. French, Charles Green, E. G. Dalziel, A. B. Frost, F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes. London: Chapman and Hall, 1907.

Created 18 January 2020