Grog Davis practising the Mississippi Dodge by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), eleventh serial illustration and third dark plate for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, Part 6 (December 1857), Chapter 20, "An Evening with Grog Davis," facing 161. Steel-plate etching; 3 ½ by 5 ⅛ inches (9.1 cm high by 13.2 cm wide), framed. This third dark plate communicates not merely the deviousness of "Captain" Grog Davis, who is constantly developing dubious business proposals to defraud his unsuspecting countrymen, but also the obscure future under which as a gambler he lives.

Bibliographical Note: The Missing Illustrations

The established pattern of each monthly number providing two monthly illustrations in reverse order at the beginning was disrupted at the beginning of December (monthly part no. 6, Chapters XX-XXIII, pages 161-192) because the illustrator was late in delivering his work. Chapman and Hall inserted the following notice where the plates should have been: "The illustrations for the present Number not being ready in time, Four Illustrations will be given in the next Number" (i. e., Part VII, January 1858). And indeed they were, the order being Conway on Escort Duty, Paul Kellett's Warning, A Breakfast-table, and Grog Davis Practising the Mississippi Dodge.

Although one may speculate as to the cause of Phiz's failure to deliver the 1 December 1857 illustrations in a timely manner, a failure perhaps simply attributable to illness, the serial part for the previous month contained an insert advertising Chapman and Hall's forthcoming publication of the fourth serial number of William Harrison Ainsworth's Mervyn Clitheroe with illustrations by Phiz — after an hiatus of four years and eight months. In due course, the next instalment of the new bildugsroman appeared in December 1857. One might reasonably suppose that this resumed Ainsworth commission interfered with Phiz's preparation of the plates for Part VI of the Lever novel, one of which was a dark plate, the process of engraving for which would have been quite time-consuming.

Passage Illustrated: The Shifty Grog Davis Practices An American Card Manoeuvre

It was late at night, and Grog Davis sat alone by a solitary candle in his dreary room. The fire had long burned out, and great pools of wet, driven by the beating rain through the rickety sashes, soaked the ragged carpet that covered the floor, while frequent gusts of storm scattered the slates, and shook the foundations of the frail building.

To all seeming, he paid little attention to the poor and comfortless features of the spot. A short square bottle of Hollands, and a paper of coarse cigars beside him, seemed to offer sufficient defence against such cares, while he gave up his mind to some intricate problem which he was working out with a pack of cards. He dealt, and shuffled, and dealt again, with marvellous rapidity. There was that in each motion of the wrist, in every movement of the finger, that bespoke practised manipulation, and a glance quick as lightning on the board was enough to show him how the game fared.

“Passed twelve times,” muttered he to himself; then added aloud, “Make your game, gentlemen, make your game. The game is made. Red, thirty-two. Now for it, Grog, — man or a mouse, my boy. Mouse it is! by ——,” cried he, with an infamous oath. “Red wins! Confound the cards!” cried he, dashing them on the floor. “Two minutes ago I had enough to live on the rest of my days. I appeal to any man in the room,” said he, with a look of peculiar defiance around him, “if he ever saw such ill luck! There's not another fellow breathing ever got it like me!” And as he spoke, he arose and walked up and down the chamber, frowning savagely, and turning glances of insolent meaning on every side of him. At last, approaching the table, he filled out a glass of gin and drank it off; and then, stooping down, he gathered up the cards and reseated himself. “Take you fifty on the first ace,” cried he, addressing an imaginary bettor, while he began to deal out the cards in two separate heaps. “Won!” exclaimed he, delightedly. [Chapter XX, "An Evening with Grog Davis," 161]

Commentary: The Devious Grog Davis Rehearses in the Dark

The dark plate effectively suggests the poverty of Grog Davis's cottage, which nevertheless seems inconsistent with the luxuries that he has lavished upon Lizzy throughout the years of his daughter's schooling at the toney Pensionnat Godarde near Brussels. Confidence man, rogue, card-sharp, and floater of dubious business schemes, the plate captures the persuasive blade-of-the-turf's trying out an American card game that he feels will guarantee him a passport out of shiftless and seamy indigence. Instead of depicting the shabbiness of the furnishings and the tattered carpet, Phiz emphasizes the darkness of the squalid room, the cards, the a short, square bottle of gin ("Hollands"), and the picture of a winning thoroughbred above the mantlepiece — a detail of his own invention.

Working methods

Scanned image by Simon Cooke; 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.


Harvey, John R. "Conditions of Illustration in Serial Fiction." Victorian Novelists and Their Illustrators. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1970. 182-198.

Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1859.

Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: The Man of The Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, December 1857 (Part VI) and January 1858 (Part VII).

Created 14 December 2019

Last modified 5 July 2020