He’d feel obliged if he’d favour him with a glass of cold spring water, and the loan of a shilling for a cab to take him home in Chapter VII of "Our Parish" — "Our Next-door Neighbor," in Dickens's Sketches by Boz (Household Edition, 1877), middle of page 105. Wood-engraving; 4 ¼ by 5 ¼ inches (10.8 cm high by 13.4 cm wide), framed. The besotted swell leans slightly forward, unsteady on his feet and barely able to hold onto the handle of his umbrella. Despite his bleary-eyed visage, the red-faced man gestures eloquently to support his improbable requests to the owner of No. 3 for a glass of water ("cold spring water," no less) and the loan of cabfare.

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

The 1876 and 1877 Household Editions of Dickens's Sketches by Boz, Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-Day People contain just two illustrations for "The Next-Door Neighbor," one by Frost and the other by Barnard. The present illustration appears on p. 105 in the 1877 Harper and Brothers edition with the following descriptive headline on the same page: "The Next Applicant for the First Floor." The descriptive headlines for "The Next-Door Neighbour" in the Chapman and Hall edition (1876) are "Knockers of the Past" (p. 19) and "The Serious Man" (p. 21).

Passage Illustrated: An Annoying Nocturnal Visitor to "Our Parish"

First of all, he displayed a most extraordinary partiality for sitting up till three or four o’clock in the morning, drinking whiskey-and-water, and smoking cigars; then he invited friends home, who used to come at ten o’clock, and begin to get happy about the small hours, when they evinced their perfect contentment by singing songs with half-a-dozen verses of two lines each, and a chorus of ten, which chorus used to be shouted forth by the whole strength of the company, in the most enthusiastic and vociferous manner, to the great annoyance of the neighbours, and the special discomfort of another single gentleman overhead.

Now, this was bad enough, occurring as it did three times a week on the average, but this was not all; for when the company did go away, instead of walking quietly down the street, as anybody else’s company would have done, they amused themselves by making alarming and frightful noises, and counterfeiting the shrieks of females in distress; and one night, a red-faced gentleman in a white hat knocked in the most urgent manner at the door of the powdered-headed old gentleman at No. 3, and when the powdered-headed old gentleman, who thought one of his married daughters must have been taken ill prematurely, had groped down-stairs, and after a great deal of unbolting and key-turning, opened the street door, the red-faced man in the white hat said he hoped he’d excuse his giving him so much trouble, but he’d feel obliged if he’d favour him with a glass of cold spring water, and the loan of a shilling for a cab to take him home, on which the old gentleman slammed the door and went up-stairs, and threw the contents of his water jug out of window — very straight, only it went over the wrong man; and the whole street was involved in confusion. ["Our Parish," Chapter VIII, "Our Next-door Neighbor," page 104]

Commentary: Disturbing the Peace of "Our Parish"

"Our Next-Door Neighbour" ("Our Parish," No. 7) appeared originally as "Our Next-Door Neighbours" in The Morning Chronicle on 18 March 1836. However, A. B. Frost, born in 1851, likely first encountered the journalistic sketch in a cheap American re-print or pirated newspaper article. Two early volume editions that he might have seen the 1865 (so-called) Household Edition of Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People issued in New York by Sheldon and Company (2 vols.), illustrated by F. O. C. Darley. Although Frost was working for Harper & Brothers in New York, he might well have been aware of the Ticknor-Fields volume illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. and issued in Boston in 1867 to coincide with Dickens's second American reading tour.

A. B. Frost has chosen to revise a visual commentary by one of the story's earlier illustrators, George Cruikshank, who in 1836 had depicted the riotous companions of the noisy tenant next-door. Frost focuses not upon the relationship between the presumptious leader and his obnoxious companions in the wee hours, but instead describes one particularly loud and obnoxious guest of the difficult tenant of "our neighbor." The American artist, re-visiting the scene which Cruikshank so brilliantly realised four decades earlier, moves in for the closeup, abandoning the riotous companions entirely.Frost effectively contrasts the "powdered-headed old gentleman" at his own door, apprehensive that a messenger has arrived to announce a sudden health issue for his grownup daughter, and the "red-faced gentleman in a white hat" who is delighting in getting a respectable burgher up in the middle of the night with ridiculous requests. The householder shades his candle from the draught on the street and looks skeptically at the impudent intruder.

Although the sketch, originally unillustrated, first appeared in the Morning Chronicle on 18 March 1836, and was re-printed in volume form in "Our Parish" in the "Second Series," with the Cruikshank illustration, Frost probably first encountered the sketch in the Ticknor-Fields Diamond Edition volume of 1867. Dickens mixes farce and domestic tragedy in these final sketches for "Our Parish," contrasting the anecdote about the rowdies on the street and the brief account of the pathetic death of a consumptive son, farcical comedy followed by pathos and youthful high-jinks by sentiment. Dickens develops the sketch out of an initial discussion about the natures of the owners of various types of brass door-knockers (a forestaste of Dickens's use of Scrooge's knocker transforming itself into the face of Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol). His approach here is consistent with his (then-novel) petite-bourgeois attitude as to what constitutes a suitable subject for magazine fiction:

Boz's stories focused on the middle classes, looking at a London seldom visited in literature. This was not the London of aristocrats and grandhouses, but a city of ordinary people doing everyday things; the humour came not from grand farces, but from the minutiae of simple misunderstandings and comic situations. The stories were largely humorous, such as "The Bloomsbury Christening," but there were also serious, poignant tales like "The Drunkard's Death." [Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, p. 14]

The Cruikshank plate of the sleepy burgher in his night-gown confronting the rowdy takes place in the context of a Regency street-scene. The Cruikshank townhouses have the typical fan-shaped glass above their doors, but Cruikshank shows slight variations in the neoclassical columns that frame the front-doors, with ionic and corinthian order capitals. Frost has entirely omitted such details, which lend verisimilitude to the Cruikshank graphic. Although working in a more realistic mode, Frost substitutes for the engaging classical pillars an unremarkable door-knocker and mail-flap that might well be an anachronism for a story set in the London of the 1830s. In the United States, however, the Postal Service, inaugurated in July 1775 as the United States Post Office under Benjamin Franklin, provided for door-to-door mail mail delivery ahead of Great Britain's Penny Post. A 1792 American law provided for a greatly expanded postal network with cheap rates, and regular postal service was well established by the 1830s. About three quarters of all federal civilian employees worked for the Post Office, wih mail volumes reaching 2900 letters and 2700 newspapers per thousand by 1840.

The Relevant Illustration from The Household Edition (1876): The Next Renter

Above: Fred Barnard's realistic wood-engraving of the next prospective tenant's inspecting the rental room, When he first came to look at the lodgings, he inquired most particularly whether he was sure to be able to get a seat in the Parish Church.


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Barnard, J. "Fred" (il.). Charles Dickens's Sketches by Boz, with thirty-four illustrations. The Works of Charles Dickens: The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876. Volume 13.

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

Cohen, Jane Rabb. Part One, "Dickens and His Early Illustrators: 1. George Cruikshank. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1980. Pp. 15-38.

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Last modified 28 May 2019