The Examination before the Magistrates by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), twenty-first serial illustration for William Harrison Ainsworth's Life and Adventures of Mervyn Clitheroe, Parts 11-12 (June 1858), Book the Third, Chapter XV, "The Examination before the Magistrates," facing p. 333. Steel etching, 9.7 cm high by 16.9 cm wide, vignetted. Source: Ainsworth's Works (1882), originally published in the eleventh serial instalment by George Routledge and Sons, London. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: Rue about to testify in the Justice-Room at the Vicarage

Mr. Clitheroe has declared that he obtained information from a gipsy girl of the supposed meeting at a turf-cutters's hut in Delamere Forest. Where is the girl? Can she be produced to corroborate his assertion?"

"She can," I replied. "She is without."

"Call her," the senior magistrate said.

At this announcement, for which he seemed wholly unprepared, a great change took place in Malpas. His limbs trembled, and he took out his handkerchief to wipe his brow. As Tintwisle proceeded to summon the witness, he gazed anxiously at the door, and when, after a short interval, Rue entered, he addressed a supplicating glance at her, which she answered by an inexorable look. Malpas's discomposure was too evident not to attract the attention pf the whole assemblage. The magistrates regarded him with anxiety, and Dr. Sale could not conceal his uneasiness. [Book the Third, Chapter XV, "The Examination before the Magistrates," pp. 333-334]

Commentary: Malpas accused, but not indicted — without significant drama

Behind the screen Mrs. Sale, the villain's kind-hearted mother, hears her son accused of murdering Simon Pownall at the dyke near the turf-cutter's hut in the Delamere Forest, the subject of the previous illustration. At the lower end of the hearing room, located in the vicarage, are "some ten or a dozen yeomen" (331), not particularized in the illustration. Nevertheless, Phiz has realized the portraits of Mrs. Sale's relatives and Uncle Mobberley, "which, though pained after the good old man's death, and copied from a miniature, was exceedingly like him" (330). The viewers may draw such a conclusion for themselves, as the likeness of Mervyn's uncle appears in the frontispiece, as well as in "Who shot the cat?" Consequently, although the June 1858 illustration realizes the moment in the judicial hearing when Rue the Gypsy is about to offer her somewhat equivocal testimony against Malpas Sale as the murderer of Simon Pownall, Phiz has integrated the elements of the scene that Ainsworth has introduced earlier in Book III, Chapter XV, "The Examination before the Magistrates," when he described the auditors and physical circumstances of the hearing in the justice-room at the vicarage, including the conspicuous Beadle (right).

However, with Malpas's groom, Jem Millington, testifying that his horse had not the left the house where they were staying on the night in question and Rue not prepared to indicate that she had seen Malpas shoot Pownall, the Magistrates declare that they have insufficient evidence to indite Malpas for murder. In fact, since nobody has been able to find a corpse near the dyke, the magistrates cannot even determine whether Pownall is dead, for Chetham Quick, Malpas's servant, asserts that Pownall has merely gone into hiding. Malpas adds, "I venture to affirm that the man I am reported to have shot — Simon Pownall — is alive and unhurt."

The illustration does not capture the astuteness and vehemence with which Malpas cross-examines his accusers Ned and Rue, a feature of the text undoubtedly reflecting the author's legal training. He and Phiz might have decided upon the more dramatic moment when Mrs. Sale, subsequently escorted out of the hearing, delivers a plea to Rue as the Gypsy girl is about to testify against her errant son. At the crucial point in her examination, when Rue hesitates to answer lest she implicate her father and brother in Malpas's abduction of Pownall, the Gypsy girl relents when she hears Mrs. Sale's outburst after Mervyn has asked about events at the turf-cutter's hut:

As I put this question, there was a profound silence, broken only by a half-suppressed sob from Mrs. Sale. Looking in the direction whence this sound had proceeded, Rue was made aware of the poor lady's presence, and became violently agitated. A sudden revulsion seemed to take place in her feelings. [335]

Mrs. Sale then verbally interferes with the witness, pleading with her not to "join this conspiracy" against her son. Too late to check this "highly improper" interjection into the proceedings, Magistrate Mapletoft orders Mr. Sale to escort his wife from the hearing-room. Although the screen behind the magistrates in Phiz's illustration implies Mrs. Sale's presence which has the potential to disrupt Rue's testimony, it would have been far more effective had he realised the very moment at which Malpas's tearful mother interrupts Rue's testimony, thereby deferring Malpas's being brought to justice.

The illustration, then, lacks the kind of drama one sees in such contemporary courtroom scenes as Phiz's illustration of Charles Darnay's arraignment for treason at the Old Bailey in The Likeness, in the July 1859 instalment of A Tale of Two Cities. There, the action swirls around attorney Carton and his client on the witness stand as the court is in turmoil as the defence attorney in Book II, Chapter III, proves the similarity in the faces of the lawyer and the accused, thereby clinching Darnay's release. Whereas the Dickens illustration demonstrates how carefully Browne has read the text, organizing the figures and the action for maximum effectiveness, this courtroom scene in Mervyn Clitheroe for the June 1858 double-number fails to show either the Reverend Mr. Sale or his interfering wife, for example, and is thoroughly lacking in the kind of tension evident in the Dickens plate. Despite Ainsworth's describing Malpas as agitated, no aspect of his visage or posture betrays any strong emotion as Phiz suggests his utter composure in the face of the serious charge laid against him.

Phiz's gripping steel-engraving of the initial courtroom scene for the second instalment of Dickens's 1859 historical novel, The Likeness.

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 9 January 2019