"Another glass here!" — a composite woodblock engraving by Arthur Burdett Frost for Part IV, "Tales"; Chapter XII, "The Drunkard's Death," in Dickens's Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-Day People, page 276. 4 ⅛ by 5 1⁄8 inches (10.5 cm high by 13.3 cm wide), framed. Frost makes Dickens's inveterate drunkard seem jovial enough as he drinks up the last of his reserve coins with a pair of fellows who play to his ego and his addiction. Unaware of their real identities and motives, Warden inadvertently betrays his son's whereabouts to these clever police spies.

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.] Click on the image to enlarge it.

Bibliographical Information

The 1876 and 1877 Household Editions of Dickens's Sketches by Boz, Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-Day People contain a total of four illustrations for "The Drunkard's Death," but Frost contributed only one of these. This sketch had not appeared prior the Macrone second series (1837), for which Dickens especially composed it as the final piece in "Tales." Fred Barnard in the London Household Edition volume theatrically presents the arrest of the criminal son as the suffering sister gives herself over to despair and her drunkard father cringes by the barren fireplace. The present illustration by A. B. Frost appears on p. 276 in the 1877 Harper and Brothers edition with the following descriptive headlines: "The Memory of the Past" (p. 277), and on the previous page "Father and Children" (p. 275). The descriptive headlines for "The Drunkard's Death" in the Chapman and Hall edition (1876) are "On the Watch" (p. 237) and "The Memory of the Past" (p. 239).

Although most of the sketches in this anthology were originally published as separate articles in various magazines and journals between 1833 and 1836, the 8 February 1836 edition presents for the first time five significant short stories: "A Visit to Newgate," "The Black Veil," "The Great Winglebury Duel," "Our Next-Door Neighbour," and "The Drunkard's Death." "The Drunkard's Death" had not appeared in any periodical prior to Macrone's publishing it in the Second Series (17 December 1836) of the Sketches, and was illustrated neither by Eytinge in 1867 nor Furniss in 1910, although Felix Octavius Carr Darley provided a moving frontispiece depicting the death of the wife for the second volume of Sketches in the 1864 Household Edition of Sheldon & Co., New York.

Passage Illustrated: The Police Operatives Pump the Father for Information

He had to pass the public-house. He lingered for an instant, walked past it, turned back again, lingered once more, and finally slunk in. Two men whom he had not observed, were on the watch. They were on the point of giving up their search in despair, when his loitering attracted their attention; and when he entered the public-house, they followed him.

"You'll drink with me, master," said one of them, proffering him a glass of liquor.

"And me, too," said the other, replenishing the glass as soon as it was drained of its contents.

"The man thought of his hungry children, and his son's danger. But they were nothing to the drunkard. He did drink; and his reason left him.

"A wet night, Warden," whispered one of the men in his ear, as he at length turned to go away, after spending in liquor one-half of the money on which, perhaps, his daughter's life depended.

"The right sort of night for our friends in hiding, Master Warden," whispered the other.

"Sit down here," said the one who had spoken first, drawing him into a corner. "We have been looking arter the young un. We came to tell him, it's all right now, but we couldn't find him 'cause we hadn't got the precise direction. But that ain't strange, for I don't think he know'd it himself, when he come to London, did he?"

"No, he didn't," replied the father.

The two men exchanged glances.

"There's a vessel down at the docks, to sail at midnight, when it's high water," resumed the first speaker, "and we'll put him on board. His passage is taken in another name, and what's better than that, it's paid for. It's lucky we met you."

"Very," said the second.

"Capital luck," said the first, with a wink to his companion.

"Great," replied the second, with a slight nod of intelligence.

"Another glass here; quick" — said the first speaker. And in five minutes more, the father had unconsciously yielded up his own son into the hangman's hands. [Part IV. "Tales," Chapter XII, "The Drunkard's Death," pp. 276-77 ]

Commentary: Social Realism rather than Character Comedy

Life story of a drunkard: hiswife dies in wretched poverty; his sons are transported or killed; his daughter leaves him; and, finally, he drowns himself in the Thames. This story was written for the Second Series of Boz. [Davis, p. 120].

Whereas Dickens's original illustrator, George Cruikshank, did not provide an engraving for the final short story in either the second series of Macrone's edition of Sketches by Boz or the Chapman and Hall serialisation and subsequent single volume of 1839, Fred Barnard the year before Arthur Frost provided three wood-engravings, the last a tailpiece — The body was washed ashore, some miles down river, a swollen disfigured mass (p. 240) — reminiscent of Phiz's illustration of the ignominious fate of the odious Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop. As a realistic piece of contemporary social commentary Barnard had doubtless found the cautionary tale compelling, but Frost actually focusses on alcoholism as the central problem.

Dickens in this final sketch already seems to be shedding his youthful identity as the quaint Regency anecdotalist "Boz" as he ends the London sketches on a sombre note. Gone are fashionable middle-class youths presenting themselves as something they are not and the crotchety, old bachelors; and, in place of Horatio Sparkins, Cymon Tuggs, and the denizens of the boarding-house Dickens the journalist offers a cautionary tale on the evils of alcohol addiction, which ultimately destroys both the eponymous drunkard and his entire family. Unlike the visual parables of George Cruikshank's The Bottle (1847) and The Drunkard's Children (1848), Dickens's "The Drunkard's Death" offers no lighter vision of the family before the father's descent into debauchery. He has already committed himself to a dissolute life before his wife's death earlier in the story. Frost, however, has chosen to realise the moments leading up to his son's betrayal, ensnarement, and arrest that prepare reader's for the story's final movement, the determined suicide of the alcoholic after the loss of all his family.

With realistic portraiture A. B. Frost in the 1877 illustration contrasts Fred Barnard's stage-like rendering of a tale not even illustrated by George Cruikshank in either the 1836 or 1839 editions of Sketches by Boz (John Macrone; Chapman & Hall). However, in Barnard's 1876 program the story becomes the subject of no less that three separate wood-engravings in the British Household Edition, volume 13. The dissolute father, named only "Warden" in the text (surely ironic in that he is anything but a dutiful guardian to his children), finds himself easily seduced into imbibing "free drinks" at the local tavern with two apparently well-meaning strangers. They assure him that they intend to help his son escape aboard a ship departing shortly from the nearby docks. Thus, through his alcoholism, he inadvertently betrays his son's whereabouts to the police-spies, who apprehend the youth in his father's hovel after they have followed Warden home.

Setting a rather sombre tone for what is generally a light-hearted and even farcical collection, three of these stories, emphasizing suspense and moralizing over character and physical comedy, involve crime and punishment, and the darkening shadows of the prison house. Like Barnard the year before in the British Household Edition, Frost provides a chilling final portrait of the decrepit alcoholic rather than ending the anthology on either a comic or an uplifting note. As is the case with Cruikshank's parable of an alcoholic's descent into insanity, The Bottle, the illustrator has made a bottle of gin the centrepiece of this composition.

Other Nineteenth-century illustrations for "The Drunkard's Death"

Left: Felix Octavius Carr Darley's second frontispiece depicting the pathetic scene in which Mrs. Warden dies, probably of a combination of malnutrition and disease, The Drunkard's Death. (1864). Right: Barnard's moving portrait of the homeless alcoholic, Looks that he had long forgotten were fixed upon him once more; voices long since hushed in death sounded in his ears like the music of village bells. — "Tales," Ch. 12.

Above: The initial Barnard illustration, depicting the apprehension of the drunkard's son for murder, He raised his manacled hands in a threatening attitude, fixed his eyes on his shrieking parent, and slowly left the room.. Through his alcoholism, Warden has inadvertently betrayed his son's whereabouts to the police-spies, who apprehend the youth in his father's garrett after they have followed Warden home. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Above: The final Barnard illustration, depicting the drunkard's body washed up on the shore of Thames, Uncaptioned tailpiece.


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Last modified 22 April 2019