The Game at Piquet (December 1858) by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), thirty-sixth serial illustration for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, Part 18 (December 1858), Chapter LXVII, "A Dead Heat," facing page 564. As Grog contemplates the mission upon which he is about to send the duplicitous Paul Classon (dressed as a Church of England cleric, right), the inveterate gambler cannot resist the sight of so many gold Napoleons, and offers to play piquet for them, even though Classon will require some of them for expenses.

Bibliographical Note

This appeared as the thirty-sixth serial illustration for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, steel-plate etching; 3 ¾ by 5 ½ inches (9.5 cm high by 13.9 cm wide), vignetted. The story was serialised by Chapman and Hall in monthly parts, from July 1857 through April 1859. The thirty-seventh and thirty-eighth illustrations in the volume initially appeared in the same order at the very beginning of the eighteenth monthly instalment, which went on sale on 1 December 1858. This number included Chapters LXV through LXVII, and ran from page 545 through 576 to make up the 32-page instalment.

Passage Illustrated: Paul Classon Prepares fior a New Mission

Davis had just paid over to Paul Classon the sum of two hundred Napoleons, — the price of a secret service he was about to perform, — and the sight of that glowing heap of fresh gold — for there it lay on the corner of the table — had so stimulated the acquisitiveness of Grog's nature that he could not resist the temptation to try and regain them. The certainty that when he should have won them it would only be to restore them to the loser, for whose expenses on a long Journey they were destined, detracted nothing from this desire on his part A more unprofitable debtor than Holy Paul could not be imagined. His very name in a schedule would reflect discredit on the bankruptcy! But there lay the shining pieces, fresh from the mint and glittering, and the appeal they made was to an instinct, not to reason. Was it with the knowledge of this fact that Paul had left them there instead of putting them up in his pocket? Had he calculated in his own subtle brain that temptations are least resistible when they are most tangible? There was that in his reverence's look which seemed to say as much, and the thoughtless wantonness of his action as his fingers fiddled with the gold may not have been entirely without a purpose. They had talked together, and discussed some knotty matters of business, having concluded which, Davis proposed cards. [Chapter LXVII, "A Dead Heat," p. 564]

Commentary: A Visual Foil to an Atmospheric Woodland Scene

Aware that this instalment would require a second, more conventional illustration to complement the initial dark plate The Stepping-Stones, Lever seems to have virtually dictated the description of the interior of Grog's parlour at the inn at Holbach in the Rhenish Palatinate, providing Phiz with a complete catalogue of the furnishings and props which readers note in the picture as they wonder about the nature of the "mission" upon which Davis is sending Classon:

We are at Holbach, but no longer strolling along its leaf-strewn alleys, or watching the laughing eddies of its circling river, — we are within doors. The scene is a small, most comfortably furnished chamber of the little inn, where an ample supper is laid out on a sideboard, a card-table occupying the centre of the room, at which two players are seated, their somewhat “charged” expressions and disordered dress indicating a prolonged combat, — a fact in part corroborated by the streak of pinkish dawn that has pierced between the shutters, and now blends with the sickly glare of the candles. Several packs of cards litter the floor around them, thrown there in that superstitious passion only gamblers understand, and a decanter and some glasses stand on the table beside the players, who are no others than our acquaintances Grog Davis and Paul Classon. [563]

The figure who offers necessary comic relief to the romanic and financial plots, the Reverend Paul Closson, has already made significant appearances in the narrative-pictorial series, and will continue to be a vein of humour that Lever will mine. Suave, precocious, impertinent, the thorough rascal with the distinctive voice and manner delights in baiting Grog and taking advantage of his old school friend. Both characters, of course, live by their wits, but Grog can never resist the temptation of a pile of gold coins, whether these are British guineas or French Napoleons. Napoleon Bonaparte was both the founder of the Bank of France and a staunch advocate of gold as opposed to government issued, unbacked paper money. The inherent value of the coin undoubtedly contributed to its continuing popularity as a universal European currency:

the 20 franc coins issued during the reign of Napoléon Bonaparte, which are 21 mm in diameter, weigh 6.45 grams (gross weight) and, at 90% pure, contain 0.1867 troy ounces or 5.805 grams of pure gold. ["Napoléon (coin)"]

First issued in 1803 during the First French Empire, the gold coins that Grog Davis covets are twenty-franc pieces. Although no such coins were struck after 30 November 1815, they remained almost universally accepted across Europe for the rest of the nineteenth century. Later French gold coins in the same denomination were also referred to as "Napoleons." The originals, bearing the profile of Napoleon Bonaparte (either as First Consul of the Republic or Empereur) on one side and a map of French-controlled Europe on the other, were produced not only at the several French mints, but also in occupied territories: Genoa, Turin (1803 to 1813), Rome (1812 to 1813), Utrecht in the Netherlands (1812 to 1813), and Geneva. The obverse (L'Italie Délivrée à Marengo) recalls Napoleon's liberating Italy from Austria at the Battle of Marengo in Piedmont on 14 June 1800. The reverse indicates the extent of lands which the French liberated, known as Gaul Subalpine. Undoubtedly reflecting upon the European currency of the 1850s, Lever frequently compares the daring and entrepreneurial Davenport Dunn to the First Emperor of the French. Lever's readers might also have identified Dunn with Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873), who, blocked from serving a further term as President (1848–52) of the French Second Republic, staged a coup d'état in 1851, and proclaimed himself Napoleon III, the Emperor (1852–70) of the Second French Empire.

Other Images of the Rev. Paul

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, December 1858 (Part XVIII).

"Napoléon (coin)." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.. Last edited on 12 April 2019. Accessed 22 April 2019.

Last modified 3 August 2019