My Adventure in the Haunted Chamber by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), fourteenth serial illustration for William Harrison Ainsworth's Life and Adventures of Mervyn Clitheroe, Part 7 (February 1858), Book the Second, Chapter XII, "The Legend of Owlarton Grange. — My Adventure in the Haunted Chamber," facing page 220. Steel etching, 10 cm high by 14.7 cm wide, framed. Source: Ainsworth's Works (1882), originally published in the seventh serial instalment by George Routledge and Sons, London. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: A Dramatic Confrontation

Once more I was alone in the haunted chamber. Again I glanced at the portraits of the miser and his murderous servant, and, now that I was acquainted with the legend connected with the picture, it impressed me still more powerfully. In consequence, no-doubt, of the story I had heard from Old Hazy, superstitious fancies crowded thickly upon me, and all my efforts to shake them off were unavailing, As on the previous night, I drew back the heavy curtain from before the deep bay-window, and allowed the moonlight to stream into the chamber. I took some precautions which I had not deemed needful on the former occasion, Taking my case of duelling-pistols from my portmanteau, I loaded the weapons, and laid them on the table. Then seating myself in an easy-chair, I determined to keep watch, but in spite of my resolutions of vigilance, sleep after awhile stole over my eyelids.

How long I slumbered I cannot say, but I was suddenly aroused by a strange and startling noise, which I at once recognised as the ghostly knocking described by Cuthbert Spring. I listened intently. After the lapse of about a minute there was another heavy blow as if dealt by a mallet — a third — a fourth — up to ten; with the same intervals between each.

The unearthly sounds seemed to proceed from the lower part of the wall on the left of the bed. But they did not appear to be stationary. On the contrary, the blows were dealt at various points inside the wainscot.

I am not ashamed to own that I felt appalled. My taper had burnt out, and the wan light of the moon, which must have been struggling with passing clouds only seemed to make darkness visible. The further end of the chamber in which the bed stood was plunged in deep shade.

While peering into this obscurity, I fancied I saw a figure standing near the bed. It was perfectly motionless, and scarcely distinguishable; but as far as I could make it out, the attire of the phantom or semblance of attire — was like that worn by Jotham Shocklach, as represented in the portrait — while the features, as far as they could be discerned, were those of the murderous servant. Something tike a thin shroud hung over the lower part of the figure, and in its right hand it held a mallet.

Terror completely transfixed me, I strove to speak, but my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth. My limbs refused their office, and I could not grasp my pistols. The figure remained motionless and stationary, half-concealed by the dark drapery of the bed, from which it could scarcely be distinguished. As I gazed at it, for I could not withdraw my eyes, it began to glide slowly towards me. No sound that I could detect attended its progress. My terror increased. At length the phantom came under the influence of a ray of moonlight streaming athwart the chamber, which lighted up its ghastly and cadaverous features. It then paused; and at that moment I recovered my firmness, for I felt convinced that I had to do with one of mortal mould. Starting to my feet, I demanded of the ghost, in tones that sounded hoarse and strange in my own ears, who it was, and what it wanted?

The apparition made no answer, but pointed to the door , as if enjoining my departure. But I did not move. [Book the Second, Chapter XII, “The Legend of Owlarton Grange. — My Adventure in the Haunted Chamber,” pp. 219-221]

The Interpolated Gothic Tale reverts to The Search for Sissy Culcheth

This, then, is the point at which Phiz has described the scene, but the illustration like the text up this point is wholly misleading, for this is not a supernatural visitation but a trick which Mervyn quickly detects — a trick intended to compel Mervyn to quit the neighbourhood, and give up his search for Ned Culcheth's runaway wife. To emphasize the (supposedly) supernatural nature of Mervyn's visitor Phiz has placed the gesturing figure directly under the portrait of the miser and his servant. The curtains and pannelling likewise associate this illustration, set in the nineteenth century, with the previous discovery scene, set in the eighteenth. The full moon and the candle on the table highlight the area around the table and Mervyn's figure as, grasping a pistol, he turns to face the unquiet spirit.

As is typical of the episodic construction of picaresque novels, Ainsworth begins "The Adventure of the Haunted Chamber" as an inset narrative, in which Mervyn’s host, Old Hazy, describes the circumstances culminating in the murder of his great-grandfather, Clotten Hazilrigge, the Miser, by his cunning servant, Jotham Shocklach. Indeed, Phiz's illustration previous to this describes the tradesmen's discovery of the bodies of the miser and his faithless servant in the secret chamber adjoining his bedroom. Now Phiz continues the Gothic tale by depicting what the viewer assumes prior to reading the chapter in its entirety is a ghostly visitation in “The Haunted Chamber.” The reader as he or she comes upon the plate assumes that it depicts Mervyn's confronting the uneasy spirit of the murderer. Once again, Mervyn is the central figure facing a cunning antagonist. But Phiz's illustration works against the text, for Ainsworth shortly reveals that the unquiet spirit, Jotham Shocklach, is none other than the devious Simon Pownall in disguise. In fact, he has established an alternate identity in the vicinity of Weverham as Dr. Hooker, Mr. Hazilrigge's crony and a man of science. Thus, Ainsworth links the inset Gothic tale "My Adventure in the Haunted Chamber" to the main plot as Mervyn, having unmasked the impostor of Jotham's ghost, questions Simon Pownall about the whereabouts of Sissy Culcheth. The trickster, however, conveniently disappears before Mervyn can question him further. What is apparent, however, is that Sissy is in a bad state — and that Pownall has the missing will in which Uncle Mobberley left the bulk of his estate to Mervyn rather than Malpas.

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.


Ainsworth, William Harrison. The Life and Adventures of Mervyn Clitheroe (1851-2; 1858). Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ('Phiz'). London: Routledge, 1882.

Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

Vann, J. Don. "William Harrison Ainsworth. Mervyn Clitheroe, twelve parts in eleven monthly installments, December 1851-March 1852, December 1857-June 1858." New York: MLA, 1985. 27-28

Last modified 23 November 2018