The Dinner Party at the Anchorite's by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), sixth serial illustration for William Harrison Ainsworth's Life and Adventures of Mervyn Clitheroe, Part 3 (February 1852), Chapter X, "A Visit to the Butler's Pantry — A Dinner Party at the Anchorite's — Dr. Bray and Mr. Cuthbert Spring." [Click on the illustrations to enlarge them.]

Bibliographical Note

The illustration in both the original Chapman and Hall serial and the later Routledge volume was a Steel etching, 10.5 cm high by 12.5 cm wide, facing page 83. Source: Ainsworth's Works (1882), originally published in the third serial instalment by Chapman and Hall in February 1852. This instalment originally comprised Book the First, Chapters 9, 10, and 11.

Context of the Illustration: Mrs. Mervyn's Banquet

"Madame," he said to Mrs. Mervyn, in a solemn tone, and with great apparent gravity, "I have partaken of many dishes, the names of which were obnoxious to my ears, but I have tolerated them, — nay, more, I have eaten them with relish. I have not raised the voice of reproof against calf's head with Nonjuror Sauce, because I must admit the sauce so named to be meritorious; but I decidedly object, madam, to the Cardinal of York's pie. P. C. may be marked on it, as the girls used to mark their pincushions in the Pretender's times, but that does not appease me. Mr. Comberbach, take away this pie."

"Take it away, sir?" our butler inquired in astonishment. You are not aware how good it is, sir. It,s our cook's shay doover."

"That may be," the doctor sternly rejoined, "but I cannot allow it to remaln. There are limits even to toleration. Remove it, I say."

"When you goes to Rum, you should do as thc Rummuns does, sir; and when you dines with a Jackeybite lady, you should make up your mouth to Jackeybite fare," our butler observed, with more than his customary assurance, for he was highly offended.

Dr. Bray had some ado to preserve his countenance at this sally, but he managed to repeat his injunction with some semblance of gravity.

But when Mr. Comberbach took up the silver dish on which the pie was placed, such an outcry arose from the other guests, that he held it suspended over the head of his mistress.

"Is it rcally going?" I said to Cuthbert Spring.

"Upon my soul I don't know!" he replied, rising from his seat. [Book One, Chapter X, "A Visit to the Butler's Pantry — A Dinner Party at the Anchorite's — Dr. Bray and Mr. Cuthbert Spring," 83-84]

Commentary: Distinguishing Characters in a Group Scene

Whereas Charles Dickens in Uriah persists in hovering near us, at the dinner party (January 1850) had offered the artist the opportunity for more diverse postures and groupings, Ainsworth describes a strictly regimented dinner-table scene with little opportunity for diversity in the representation of the dinner-guests. Phiz therefore had to inject distinguishing features for the dinner-guests in order to individualise them.

To avoid a stilted or regimented effect in such group scenes as banquets early in his career Phiz had learned how to individualise the characters through facial expressions and hair styles such he could not distinguish them by postures. Moreover, he unifies the composition by providing a focal character, in this case, the butler holding a salver (extreme left), who is balanced by the three figures standing to the right. Phiz merely sketches in the wainscotted dining-room in order to throw the focus onto the characters in the foreground, to whom he applies a subtle contrapposto, particularly to the three men and two women seated with their backs towards the viewer. Unfortunately, since the moment realized is not one characterised by significant conflict or dissension, the composition is rather unremarkable. As was the custom in the Victorian period, the diners are seated with men and women alternating down each side of the table; Mrs. Mervyn as the hostess occupies the head of the table (left), and the familiar figure of the benevolent physician, Dr. Foam (prominent in the previous illustration), occupies the foot of the table, right. The guest with the peculiar wig is likely Mr. D'Ewes, who has just lost his false hair as a result of the comic ineptitude of the butler, Mr. Comerbach. The precise moment illustrated would seem to be the butler's responding to Cuthbert Spring's objection to the fanciful name that the cook has applied to the pork pie — Phiz makes clear that the diner who has raised the objection is the one standing at the foot of the table and gesturing towards the offending salver, which is hovering just above Mrs. Mervyn's head. After the five significant textual moments that Phiz has realised across three monthly instalments, this comic scene does not meet the standard that the author and illustrator have set thus far in the Chapman and Hall serialisation.

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

Created 23 November 2018

Last modified 17 March 2021