A Breakfast-table by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), thirteenth serial illustration and fourth dark plate for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, Part 6 (January 1858), Chapter 23, "A Breakfast-table," facing 194. Steel-plate etching; 3 ⅛ by 5 inches (9.3 cm high by 12.8 cm wide), vignetted.

Bibliographical Note: Additional Illustrations for the January 1858 Number

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 Butler Entertains Conway in Dunn's Absence

The breakfast-table, placed close to a cheerful fire, was spread with every luxury of that meal. A small spirit lamp burned under a dish of most appetizing cutlets, in the midst of various kinds of bread, and different sorts of preserves. The grateful odor of mocha mingled with the purer perfume of fresh flowers, which, although in midwinter, were never wanting at Mr. Clowes's breakfast-table, while in the centre rose a splendid pineapple, the first of the season, duly offered by the gardener to the grand vizier of Davenport Dunn.

“I can promise you a better breakfast than he would have given you,” said Clowes, as he motioned his guest to a seat, while he significantly jerked his thumb towards Dunn's study. “He takes tea and dry toast, and he quite forgets to order anything else. He has some crank or other about beginning the day with a light meal; quite a mistake, — don't you think so?” [Chapter XXIII, "A Breakfast-Table," 194]

Commentary: Political Table-talk

Phiz still avoids giving the reader a clear image of the great mansion on Merrion-square, for the substantial-looking middle-aged swell with the capacious waistcoat turns out upon examination of the letterpress to be Dunn's butler, the pompous Mr. Clowes, entertaining young Conway over a breakfast that Dunn had promised him the night before.

The affable (if not somewhat pretentious and judgmental) butler knows nothing about Dunn's invitation to Conway the night before for breakfast at Merrion-square. In fact, as the butler notes, Dunn often "takes tea and dry toast, and . . . quite forgets to order anything else." In this instance, he has even forgotten, under the press of political engagements, that he had intended to entertain the young rifleman. Looking at the illustration in advance of actually reading the January 1858 number of the novel, the reader might well have anticipated that he or she was going to encounter Dunn by the full light of day, rather than in a dark plate such as The Faint or Going Home, in which Phiz has apparently deliberately obscured Dunn's face and form in order to render him more mysterious. Whereas Dunn has dashed off for an early morning engagement, Mr. Clowes indulges himself in the best of everything, and generously shares his master's bounty with the young Crimean War veteran. As in the other plates involving Conway, "A Message from Jack" (October 1857), and The Pony Race (October 1857), and Phiz understates Conway's missing an arm, and focuses on the affable butler with the fashionable hairstyle, substantial figure, and imposing white waistcoat, juxtaposing him with the thin, bearded Charles Conway, and the enormous pineapple that seems to preside over the breakfast-table. The only addition that Phiz has made is the butler's spaniel. Clowes' analysis of the mismanagement of the Crimean War and his suspicion of the French alliance reflect the general sentiment of the British public, which had turfed out the Liberal Conservative coalition government of Lord Aberdeen in January 1855, three years prior to Lever's publishing this chapter.

The scene occurs presumably after the Allies have decided to lay siege to Sebastapol, Russia's chief naval base, in September 1854, but before the disastrous Russian counteroffensive at the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October. Lever's reference to defensive earthworks recalls the subsequent stalemate in which the front settled into a siege and led to brutal conditions for troops on both sides, much to the distaste of the British public. Following the logic of Clowes' analysis (which presumably reflects his master's), Sebastopol is yet to fall to the Allies, and Russia has yet to sue for peace.

The Crimean War

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.


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, January 1858 (Part VII).

Created 29 July 2019

Last modified 5 July 2020