The woman put her hand upon his shoulder by Arthur B. Frost. Wood-engraving for "Scenes," Chapter 24, "Criminal Courts," Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-Day People, page 163. 5 ⅛ by 7 ⅝ inches (12.9 cm high by 19.5 cm wide), framed. Nicholas Bentley et al. describe the juvenile offender, who has just been released into his mother's custody, as "a forerunner of the Artful Dodger" (66) from Oliver Twist. However, whereas Dickens's young offender is plucky, defiant, and impudent, Frost has depicted this juvenile criminal as pathetic and isolated — and aware that he has distressed his aged mother by his antisocial conduct. He therefore has a tragic trajectory, in contrast to that of the essentially comic figure of Jack Dawkins, the Artful Dodger, transported for life to Australia.

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.]

Bibliographical Information

Originally published as "Street Sketches, No. 3. The Old Bailey" in The Morning Chronicle for 23 October 1834, this is one of Dickens's earliest pieces in what would come to be the "Scenes" in the second series of Sketches by Boz (1839). The 1876 and 1877 Household Editions of Dickens's Sketches by Boz, Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-Day People contain only a single wood-engraving of the 13-year-old felon between them of the incident outside London's Central Criminal Court.

Passage Illustrated: A Wayward Youth penitently leaves the Old Bailey

We were walking leisurely down the Old Bailey, some time ago, when, as we passed this identical gate, it was opened by the officiating turnkey. We turned quickly round, as a matter of course, and saw two persons descending the steps. We could not help stopping and observing them.

They were an elderly woman, of decent appearance, though evidently poor, and a boy of about fourteen or fifteen. The woman was crying bitterly; she carried a small bundle in her hand, and the boy followed at a short distance behind her. Their little history was obvious. The boy was her son, to whose early comfort she had perhaps sacrificed her own — for whose sake she had borne misery without repining, and poverty without a murmur — looking steadily forward to the time, when he who had so long witnessed her struggles for himself, might be enabled to make some exertions for their joint support. He had formed dissolute connexions; idleness had led to crime; and he had been committed to take his trial for some petty theft. He had been long in prison, and, after receiving some trifling additional punishment, had been ordered to be discharged that morning. It was his first offence, and his poor old mother, still hoping to reclaim him, had been waiting at the gate to implore him to return home.

We cannot forget the boy; he descended the steps with a dogged look, shaking his head with an air of bravado and obstinate determination. They walked a few paces, and paused. The woman put her hand upon his shoulder in an agony of entreaty, and the boy sullenly raised his head as if in refusal. It was a brilliant morning, and every object looked fresh and happy in the broad, gay sunlight; he gazed round him for a few moments, bewildered with the brightness of the scene, for it was long since he had beheld anything save the gloomy walls of a prison. Perhaps the wretchedness of his mother made some impression on the boy’s heart; perhaps some undefined recollection of the time when he was a happy child, and she his only friend, and best companion, crowded on him — he burst into tears; and covering his face with one hand, and hurriedly placing the other in his mother’s, walked away with her. [Chapter XXIV, "Criminal Courts," p. 162]


Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.

Dickens, Charles. "Scenes," Chapter 24, "Criminal Courts," Sketches by Boz. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Chapman and Hall, 1839; rpt., 1890. Pp. 144-47.

Dickens, Charles. Section 2, "Scenes." Ch. XXIV, "Criminal Courts."Sketches by Boz, Illustrative of Every-day People and Every-day Life, Pictures from Italy, and American Notes. The Household Edition. Illustrated by A. B. Frost and Thomas Nast. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877 (copyrighted in 1876). Pp. 162-64.

Last modified 26 March 2019