The Rustic Fête at the Mill by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), eighteenth serial illustration for William Harrison Ainsworth's Life and Adventures of Mervyn Clitheroe, Part 9 (April 1858), Book the Third, Chapter IV, "I Give a Rustic Fête at the Mill," facing p. 276. Steel etching, 10 cm high by 18.5 cm wide, vignetted. Source: Ainsworth's Works (1882), originally published in the ninth serial instalment by George Routledge and Sons, London. Chapter IV concludes the ninth instalment, and constitutes the curtain. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: The Basis for Another Phiz Group Study

A hubbub at the further end of the green now informs me of the arrival of the pair of fortune-tellers. Disengaging themselves, as well as they can, from the crowd, by whom they are instantly surrounded, the two gipsy women make towards me. As they approach, I have no difficulty in recognising my old acquaintance, Peninnah, while her companion must certainly be Rue. The charms of the latter have not been exaggerated, either by Old Hazy or his niece. Look at her as she comes along. If that is not a pretty girl, I don't know one when I see her. What with her singular personal attractions, and her characteristic and picturesque attire, she offers quite a study for you, if you are a painter. Slight in figure, and pliant of limb, her movements are as easy and agile as those of a fawn. Her features are cast in a delicate mould; nose fine and straight; lips ripe and full, and as vivid as carnation; teeth like a casket of pearls. You must expect her complexion to be dark, but there is a rich glow beneath the skin that gives it inexpressible warmth and beauty. Her eyes are large, black, and full of fire, yet veiled by long silken eyelashes, that mitigate their radiance. Her brows are dark as night, and her jetty tresses are coifed by a coloured Valencian handkerchief, which she wears, coquettishly tied, over the back of her head. Her dress is somewhat showy in point of colour, and fanciful in make, but it suits her perfectly. There, I have done. You ought to have her before you. [Book the Third, Chapter IV, "I Give a Rustic Fête at the Mill," pp. 275-276.]


Here a marquee was pitched, which had been sent over from Owlarton Grange, and, adjoining it, stood a long table, covered with all the essebntials of an excellent cold collation: a roast sirloin of beef, roast lamb, pigeon pies, roast fowls, hams, tongues, and other good things too numerous to particularise. Covers were laid for thirty persons, and benches were placed on either side of the table capable of comfortably accommodating that number. [272]

Ostensibly Ainsworth has not given Phiz much to work with as he focusses on the characters rather than on the scene, except a few sentences several pages before the arrival of the gypsies:

A pretty picture altogether; with a background formed by the mill, and the old-fashioned timber-and-plaster habitation contiguous to it. The latter, with its gray thatched roof, its black-and-white chequer-work, and its transom windows, was quite as pleasing an object as the mill itself. On the right of the green was a small but prettily laid-out garden, screened off by a low privet hedge; and on the left lay the orchard . . . . A couple of gaily-decorated boats were moored to the margin of the mill-pool, and hard by the the wooden steps, serving as a landing place, grew a beautiful weeping willow, its pendent branches dipping into water. [272]

Ainsworth mentions a "marquee, on which chairs and stands were placed," five musicians to accompany the dancing ("a couple of fiddles, a flute, hautboy, and bassoon"), and benches and tables for the purpose of refreshment. Phiz has been able to integrate these elements within the crowd scene, although the marquee tent sent in from Owlarton is obscuring the view of the picturesque cottage behind it.

The sister of Mr. Hazilrigge has generously organised the fête champêtre at the mill where Mervyn has rented rooms, but she has undertaken the kindly action with a singularly personal motivation, namely to encourage a visit by that eligible, middle-aged bachelor, the Cottonborough attorney Cuthbert Spring. When Spring replies, signalling his intention to attend the outdoor reception and dance, he mentions that he will be bringing an old friend, Major Atherton — who is in fact Mervyn's long-absent father (a fact that Spring significantly omits in his hasty letter of acceptance). Other guests include the gamekeeper Ned Culcheth and his wife, Sissy, and Apphia Brideoake (standing next to Mervyn in the illustration). Accordingly, Phiz has included all of these characters, plus the comely gypsy fortune-tellers, Peninnah and Rue (down right), and the master of ceremonies, Mr. Mavis, all disposed in a manner that fills the canvass and that depicts them in various postures as they dance around Mervyn (centre) on the sward. The attentive reader should recognise the couple nearest Mervyn as Ned and Sissy from earlier illustrations. Conspicuous by his absence from the community at festival is Malpas Sale, so that the scene does not materially advance either the marriage or the inheritance plots. However, by their conspicuous position (down left, in the formal attire favoured by mid-century professionals) Phiz implies that the arrival on the scene of "Major Atherton" (the alias of Major Clitheroe) and Cuthbert Spring will materially advance the portion of the plot involving Mervyn's long-absent father.

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