I find Pownall in Conference with the Gipsies by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), seventeenth serial illustration for William Harrison Ainsworth's Life and Adventures of Mervyn Clitheroe, Part 9 (April 1858), Book the Third, Chapter III, "Revellations," facing p. 263. Steel etching, 9.9 cm high by 17.9 cm wide, framed. Source: Ainsworth's Works (1882), originally published in the ninth serial instalment by George Routledge and Sons, London. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: Pownall's Plotting with the Gipsies

Instead of proceeding in the direction of the mill, I had therefore been walking away from it for the last quarter of an hour.

Rushing forward to a stile near the high road [leading to Owlarton Grange], I waited for the next flash [of lightning] , hoping it might reveal some dwelling where I might obtain shelter; but though disappointed in this expectation, I caught sight of something, which, under the circumstances, was nearly as welcome — namely, a haystack situated at he further end of the opposite field.

Congratulating myself on the discovery, I at once started towards this place of refuge, and quickly reached it. The haystack proved o be as large as a good-sized farm-house, with widely overhanging eaves and sides sloping down to a somewhat narrow base — promising comfortable shelter at he end not exposed to the weather. I was hastening thither, when the sound of voices arrested me. Something seemed to whisper caution, and well it was that I attended to the monitor. In he intervals between loud peals of thunder I could distinguish the voices of he speakers more clearly, and they seemed familiar to me, but in order to make sure, I peered cautiously round the corner, and a flash of lightning occurring at the moment, I beheld Simon Pownall conversing with Phaleg and Obed.

Simon seemed ill at ease, and eiher from fright, or owing to the blue glare of the lightning, looked perfectly livid. But his companions appeared wholly indifferent to the terrors of the storm which agitated him so violently. Reclining against the side of the stack with his brawny arms crossed upon his chest, and one muscular leg twined round the other, gipsy-fashion, Phaleg looked he picture of reckless unconcern; while his son leaned in an equally careless attitude against a donkey, which, with a pair of panniers and a bundle of stakes upon its back, formed a conspicuous feature in the group.

All this I noted at a glance; and I noted, moreover, with some uneasiness, that both gipsies carried their heavy bludgeons with them. It might be the effect of the lightning, as in Pownall's case, but I thought Phaleg's countenance wore an unusually sinister expression. The stack had been cut at this end in steps, and a good deal of loose hay lay scattered about, in the midst of which sat Pownall with his back partly towards me. A ladder reared against the side of the rick showed that he honest husbandman had been recently at work there, not calculating upon such visitants as these.

"Mercy on us!" Simon ejaculated, his teeth chattering with fright — "what an awful peal of thunder! I never recollect such a storm in all my born days. D'ye think we're safe here, my worthy Phaleg?" [Book the Third, Chapter III, "Revellations," 263-64]

Commentary: The Lightning in the Sky of the Dark Plate

The highly atmospheric scene prepares readers for Pownall's and Phaleg's criticism of Mervyn as an inconvenient meddler, and Mervyn's overhearing Pownall's attempts to extort the Gypsy over the matter of the missing will. Hidden left of centre at the corner of the enormous haystack, Mervyn listens to the conversation of the slick confidence man (seated, centre), and bluff Gypsy (standing, legs crossed, centre) and the now grownup son Obed, standing beside his donkey, Robin. However, as Valerie Browne Lester notes, the readers' attentions tend to be drawn to the lightning-riven sky as the storm frames the haystack and dwarfs the human actors: "lightning rips down from the sky" (Lester, p. 167). The picture contributes, too, to the writer's holding his readers in suspense as their appreciating the artist's mastery of the elements of the storm and his depiction of the haystack competes with reading the letterpress to discover what harm the trio intend to inflict upon the protagonist since he has interfered with the schemes of both Phaleg and Pownall. Phiz does not, however, distinguish between Simon Pownall's terror at the storm and Phaleg's contrasting response of careless bravado.

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